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Friday, 30 March 2018

Book Review: The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

Harvey Swick is a 10-year-old boy who is bored with his life - he's tired of school, homework and the winter months. That is, until a creature tells him all about a place called the Holiday House, where you can have anything you wish for and it is Christmas every evening.


"The great grey beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive."

It's not very often that I read a book that completely changes my outlook on life. It happens once in a blue moon, but when I do find these books they are extra special. Recently I've found myself to be one of those people who  are always waiting for and looking towards something in the future, whether that is the weekend or the Easter holidays or my next vacation away somewhere exotic. I'm waiting for "better" days and "better" times. However, once I closed this book I was left with an overwhelming realisation that THESE are those days. Life is now, time is finite. Something exciting and enjoyable can be found in each day, even if it's something small. It can be that the barista made your latte JUST the way you like it, or it could be getting to spend quality time with your parents, or even be something as minuscule as getting bookmail (who am I kidding, getting bookmail is THE BEST). These are the books that burrow into your heart and leave their mark on you. The books that you lend or recommend to a friend, feeling as if you're sharing some innermost part of yourself.

Now that I've got the sentimental part out of the way... THE FANGIRLING CAN COMMENCE. I can wholeheartedly say that I have loved everything Barker that I have devoured so far. He is right up there in my top 3 authors now. His writing, his world-building, his imagination... it all blows me away. I'm a huge fan of his horror - I love the fucked-up shit he thinks up, I love the gore, the way he manages to make it terrifying and fucking weird, yet beautiful. And then he comes along and knocks me out with this stunningly beautiful, touching CHILDREN'S book. I had a number of messages from people on instagram not knowing that Barker wrote anything beyond horror. Well, he does, and if you are put off by his horror, he has other sights to show you... *smug face* Like this book - THIS ONE! Get it!

The illustrations are gorgeous and they are, of course, done by Barker himself, enhancing the entire reading experience. It's such a magical, wonderful story and I want everyone to experience it (but don't tell me if you hate it, cos I don't think my heart could take it!). Upon starting the book there were so many comments from people who said this book changed their life or that it was the gateway book into the wonderful world of reading... I GOT YOU, GUYS. I get it. I wish I had experienced this book when I was young, but I am equally happy to find it in adulthood where I could maybe appreciate the different themes a bit more. However I look forward to reading this to my kids someday - or any kids - hell, maybe I'll just start reading it to random kids on the street.

It's so amazing to me that children's books are often the ones that teach you the most valuable lessons. My other favourite childhood book is The Hobbit, which taught me to not be afraid to step outside your front door and go on an adventure - it really could be the making of you!

So I implore anyone and everyone to pick up this book. There's so much to found within this story and the last paragraph alone had me in tears. AMAZING. 5 stars from me!

Johann
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Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Book Review: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain lives in a ruined Suffolk castle with her poor, yet eccentric family. She keeps a journal, filled with hilarious yet poignant entries about her life. But one major life event occurs between the beginning and the end of these entries - Cassandra has fallen hopelessly in love.


"Perhaps watching someone you love suffer can teach you even more than suffering yourself can."

This is a quintessentially English coming-of-age story that is the literary equivalent of rolling yourself up in a big, warm, cosy blanket. It's incredibly humorous yet heartfelt as our narrator very honestly depicts family life in their crumbling castle. When they first moved into the castle, it was meant to be maintained by the royalties made by Cassandra's novelist father. However, the reality is somewhat different. His creativity and willingness to write have dried up, and so too has the money.

There's a whole range of characters to get enchanted by - Cassandra herself, her often-nude and ditzy stepmother Topaz, her selfish yet determined sister Rose, her cold father, the lovesick Stephen (who was adopted into the family yet is head-over-heels for Cassandra), and lastly, the enigmatic and curiously different Simon and Neil Cotton who come from America and turn the Mortmain family dynamics on their head. The story is predictable in some ways, yet completely surprised me in others.

The juxtaposing depiction of the poverty in the Mortmain household alongside the riches and excess in the Cotton homestead is really eye-opening and pretty much forms the basis for the story. Rose no longer wants to be poor, and will do anything to remove herself from the situation in which she finds herself, namely marrying a poor man, because not only will it whisk her away, but it will also ensure the livelihood of her family. Rose isn't particularly likeable - not for me anyway - but our narrator Cassandra is the star of the show anyway. Her interpretations of her family and her own journey as she falls in love and has her heart broken are just so honest and real. She had me laughing out loud one minute and then feeling my heart hurt alongside hers in the next.

I Capture the Castle is so perfectly executed. Definitely not my usual type of read these days, but too much horror and true crime can become pretty monotonous quite quickly - you need to break it up with something heartfelt and romantic (who could ever imagine me saying that!?). I give this one 4 stars - if you're a Jane Austen fan, then it's a must-read.

Johann
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Friday, 23 March 2018

Book Review: The House on Cold Hill by Peter James

Ollie and Caro Harcourt move into a huge, dilapidated Georgian mansion with their daughter Jade. The move will place a substantial financial strain on the family, but Ollie thinks it is the perfect place to settle down out in the country. Very quickly after moving in, Jade’s friend spots a presence in the background while on FaceTime – but there are other residents in this house, and as the history of the house is unravelled, the forces start to become more malevolent.


I had so many issues with this book. So I’ll try and present them as best as I can. Firstly, from the very beginning we are bombarded with these brand names – the Range Rover, the Golf, Nespresso pods, Mac, Instagram, FaceTime, the Dyson… it goes on…and on and on. This was very distracting to me, it felt like James was trying to show he was hip and down with the kids. It’s basically the equivalent of that Steve Buscemi meme where he was in 30 Rock and is wearing a baseball cap backwards with a skateboard slung over his shoulder – “How do you do, fellow kids?” And okay, maybe he was trying to demonstrate how “well-off” this family was, that they can afford these fancy cars and Apple products and they don’t just drink instant coffee, oh no, they use Nespresso pods. Fair enough… BUT EVERY 10 SECONDS WE ARE REMINDED OF THEIR ABILITY TO AFFORD THIS HUGE MANSION. I got it, okay? I got it.

Speaking of, it drove me around the bend that these two IDIOTS purchased this house even after the surveyor’s report probably had a red stamp on it saying “Don’t buy this – it’s a shithole”. At one point, our protagonist even alludes to the fact that he overlooked some details on the report. Oh, you know, just tiny details that if ignored would result in the four walls of their mansion caving in around them. Insignificant, I guess? And they constantly bitch and moan about all these “unforeseen” additions being made to the renovation list. How have these two morons got this far in life?

The “scares” and the “plot twists” had me rolling my eyes so far back that I went blind periodically whilst reading this book. A blind man on a galloping horse would have seen this shit coming. I HATE, HATE, HATE that “twist” in movies or books – you know the one – “oh, you were talking to Mr X? He’s been dead for 10 years.” Anytime that plot twist is used I want to rip every eyelash from my eyelids.

Certain ideas or details are just hammered home – the pounding music coming from the daughter’s bedroom, the daughter constantly being on her phone, the financial strain currently on the couple… I hate excessive repetition like this – I, unlike the characters in this book, am not an idiot. You don’t need to reinforce silly details or ideas with me. Oh, also the husband constantly telling the wife that everything is going to be okay. It’s clearly not, Ollie. You have some fucking evil presence in your home, this is not easily fixed. And the family don’t communicate with each other!! My favourite instance being when the 12 year old daughter tells them about a man having been in her room the previous number of nights – ARE YOU FOR REAL. A fucking spider enters my room and I’ll tell the entire country, and I’m 28!!!

Oh, the dialogue was a delight. It was cheesy and unrealistic and cringeworthy at times. Darling this, darling that… even in the midst of being terrorised in your family home!! It was like watching one of those Z list movie on the Christmas channel that my mum loves.

I could honestly write another PhD thesis on why this book did not work for me. I’m trying to think of something positive to say… to be fair, it was easy reading. Not much thought or concentration required, and therefore was quite easy to just breeze through. And I guess I did find some enjoyment in hating it so much. I wouldn’t go as far to say that it was so bad it was good, but it did make me laugh at times (which clearly was not the intention). Since it didn’t waste too many precious reading hours, and some parts were okay (I guess), I’d give it 2 stars. I’m feeling generous.

Johann
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Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Book Review: Black House by Stephen King & Peter Straub

Twenty years ago, a young boy named Jack Sawyer travelled to a parallel universe called The Territories to save his mother’s life. Now a retired homicide detective, Jack has no memory of these adventures. There is a sick serial killer on the loose, murdering and eating children, and the local chief of police begs Jack to help his force catch him.


“What you love, you must love all the harder because someday it will be gone.”

I love Stephen King. I love serial killers. Combine the two and you have a book that is right up jobis89’s street. The Talisman is an epic fantasy tale, spanning across our world and The Territories, as Jack Sawyer embarks on a mission to travel across the country to try and save his mother (and her Twinner) from death. Black House, however, is darker, much more of a horror novel, I feel, and it focuses on one small town – Coulee Country. The Talisman is a great, great book, but Black House is just more to my slightly darker, slightly more murderous, cannibalistic tastes… sorrynotsorry *evil laugh*

There’s so much to love about Black House. Other reviews I had looked at had pointed out the narrative style as something they did not like about Black House – well, I LOVED the narrative style. It’s a bit slow and hard to get into at the beginning, but once I did I really enjoyed it. The narrative style is as if you’re flying over Coulee Country and you’re allowed little snapshots into the lives of the residents through a bird’s-eye perspective.

Yet more awesome characters… we had Wolf in The Talisman, and now we have Henry Leyden in Black House – a blind guy who has a keen ear for voices and sounds. I loved Henry so much!! And the bikers were cool additions too. I generally really liked a lot of the characters in this one. The villain in particular – The Fisherman – was fucking terrifying. King’s villains can sometimes be pretty “grey”, they aren’t always definitively evil. However, in this case, he is evil incarnate, which is no surprise given his similarities to the vile Albert Fish (I could say more but don’t want to give away potential spoilers).

I had complaints while reading The Talisman that it felt like the Dark Tower without actually being the Dark Tower – almost like a cheap imitation I guess. And finally in Black House my suspicions are answered as connections to the Dark Tower are made. Meanwhile I’m fangirling and getting all emotional over mentions of Roland Deschain and the rest of our beloved ka-tet. Link a book to the Dark Tower series and I. WILL. LOVE. IT. (Well, apart from Insomnia… I did love the connections, it just didn’t save the rest of the book!)

As most Constant Readers will know, choosing your top 10 King books is pretty much possible, but I do believe this has now earned a spot in my top 10. It might not be for everyone, but it was really to my taste. It’s difficult to review books you really loved, so I guess I’ll wrap up here… 5 stars!!!

Johann
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Friday, 9 March 2018

Book Review: Green River, Running Red by Ann Rule

Ann Rule covers one of the most profilic serial killers in American history – a case involving more than forty-nine female victims and spanning over two decades of intense investigative work.


“Prostitution is a profession born of desperation, poverty, alienation and loneliness.” 

Well, this one was a mixed bag. It’s very clear from the beginning that Rule tries to use this novel as a way of humanising all of the Green River Killer’s victims. With the introduction of each victim, there is a small picture included as well as some back story on their life prior to it being cut short by Gary Ridgway. Some victims are covered in great detail, others are covered in a couple of lines, it really depends on what Rule was able to find out through interviews with family members and husbands/boyfriends etc. And I appreciated this, I really did. It’s very easy to think of these girls as just a name on Ridgway’s victim list, when they were actual human beings with hopes and dreams and families, struggling through a tough phase in their lives. However, on the flip-side, given the sheer magnitude of Ridgway’s victim pool, this can become quite monotonous and repetitive after a while. Especially when Rule, for some reason, deems it important to tell us how attractive each victim was, or her weight. HONESTLY. It’s very clear from the get-go that Ridgway does not have a type, unlike Bundy who targeted attractive brunettes with a centre parting in their hair. Therefore, the inclusion of such details felt very unnecessary and just removed me from what I was reading. We had a picture of each girl to refer to, we didn’t need any further expansion on physical characteristics – anyway, rant over!

The story itself was very disjointed at times – Rule would cover some of the victims, then jump over to Ridgway’s childhood, then jump over to the investigative team (again, giving us unnecessary details about each individual that I could not care any less about) and then jump back again. This was particularly jarring when I was really interested in learning more about Ridgway and his history, and she’d just cut me off and start talking about some guy retiring from the investigative team and some other guy taking over. I DON’T CARE.

I feel like I’ve been harsh so far, so it’s time to cover some aspects I did like… I just really enjoy Rule’s writing. It’s nice and easy reading, which is required when you’re reading true crime, I feel. We’re here for the facts, we’re here for good detailed coverage of different serial killers or crimes, we don’t need flowery language or beautiful prose (although Ann does try her hand at this at times when describing different landscapes etc – which is fine, it doesn’t bother me). She gives us little snapshots of Ridgway’s childhood and growing up, and his previous marriages, and these are REALLY interesting. Then towards the end of the book, when she covers his eventual capture and interrogation, this is when it gets SO GOOD I CAN’T STOP. I just wish more of the book was as addictive as this section.

Overall, this book really could have, and should have, been shorter. It’s still a mostly enjoyable read if you’re interested in learning more about Ridgway and his heinous crimes. 3 stars out of 5 for me!

Johann
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