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Sunday, 29 April 2018

Book Review: I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

A portrait of a woman's obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. I'll Be Gone in the Dark is the masterpiece that Michelle McNamara was working on when she tragically passed away in 2016. It's a chilling account of a criminal mastermind, The Golden State Killer, and the wreckage he left behind.


"This is how it ends for you. "You'll be silent forever, and I'll be gone in the dark," you threatened a victim once. Open the door. Show us your face. Walk into the light."

This was one of those surreal reading experiences that I'll never forget. I had been dying to get to this one, I needed a true crime fix, and so I decided on to start it on the Saturday. I was about halfway through when I woke up to the news on the following Wednesday that they had captured the suspected Golden State Killer. Cue obsessive scrolling through twitter all day and waiting impatiently for the news conference that evening. Prior to his capture, I felt intense disgust, rage and frustration that this man was still potentially walking the streets (Michelle was convinced he wasn't in jail or dead). As I read through the timeline of his crimes and ways in which he tortured and terrified his victims, I had a few restless nights.

Coming into contact with someone like him is my worst nightmare. Home is where you're supposed to feel safe. He often tracked and watched his victims prior to attacking, working out their schedules and how he could discretely get inside the house to carry out his intention of rape and/or murder. You'd be woken up by a flashlight shining in your face in the middle of the night and subsequently tied up so that he could do what he wanted with you. What made it even more terrifying for me was that he wasn't put off by the presence of a male partner. He would just force the female to tie her partner up before dealing with the female himself. He would often balance plates or similar items on the partner's back so that he would hear if the husband dared move while he raped his wife. So, yeah, I guess I was pretty disturbed.

To then hear that this personification of evil had potentially been identified and arrested completely changed the reading experience for me. I mean, I was still appalled at what I was reading, but at least I could feel some happiness in that he would be brought to justice for what he done to so many people and their families. But I am honestly tired of talking about this serial rapist and murderer. The real takeaway from this book is the character of Michelle McNamara. Her determination, her courage, her spirit,  her tenacity, her humanity - I could list all of her admirable traits until I am blue in the face. She brought true crime writing to another level and I am truly devastated that we will never get another true crime novel from her, she really would have changed the entire game.

I know the investigative team have yet to attribute any of the credit of his identification and capture to McNamara's work, but if you've read the book and if you have any semblance of the spotlight that she focused on this lesser-known serial rapist/murderer, then you know that is bullshit. She kept the story alive and brought an urgency to solving the case. Michelle knew the answer lay within those online genetic profiles on genealogical sites and that is ultimately how he was identified.

I loved this book, it was chilling and terrifying, but there was a light within it, and that light was Michelle. Even if you're a not a true crime fan, I would highly recommend this book. It's heartbreaking, yet inspiring and I only wish Michelle had been here to see the bastard finally go down.

Johann
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Sunday, 22 April 2018

Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, a theonomic military dictatorship formed within the borders of what was formerly the United States of America. Women have lost their rights and each woman has a specific role to play. As a Handmaid, Offred's assignment is to produce children for the ruling class. If she should ever be found to be sterile, she would be exiled to the Colonies.


"There is more than one kind of freedom," said Aunt Lydia. "Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don't underrate it."

How does one even review The Handmaid's Tale? I feel like I should just say something like "If you haven't read this yet, DO IT." End of review. But... I feel like this book deserves a full breakdown of my rambling thoughts, so here we go.

This book was truly captivating, I was engrossed from the very first page. Usually I will read in my car before heading into work each morning, well, let me tell you - for the past week I've been heading into work later than I intended to. I just could not stop reading. I couldn't! I'd think about the book constantly when I wasn't reading it, and that is truly one of the best reading experiences you could have.

The Handmaid's Tale is straight-up terrifying. It's like a fucked-up dystopian horror. And what makes it even MORE scary is that this is the kind of thing that could happen. Women's rights, especially their reproductive rights, are under constant threat in today's climate.

Atwood's prose is stunning, it's so eloquent and impactful, it blew me away. I had only read about ten pages and quickly decided I needed the entire Atwood collection. She's amazing and I can completely understand why she gets so much love from some of my fave BG friends. The characters are well-developed and three-dimensional, even if there isn't much interaction between them in terms of fully-fledged conversations. Initially the frequent lack of speech marks threw me off, but I quickly became accustomed to it and after a while didn't even notice if they were present or not. Usually that is the type of thing that would annoy me, but it just goes to show how powerful Atwood's writing is.

Offred, our narrator, moves back and forth between pre-Gilead and post-Gilead, so we are constantly piecing together how Gilead came to be, which kept the pages turning because I was dying to know how everything went down. It was particularly heartbreaking when Offred would reminisce about her life "before", I just find it so chilling how you can live your life with all the freedom you have become accustomed to, when one day the rug is just whipped out from under your feet and everything is turned upside down. You just can't foresee something like this happening, and that petrifies me. The story itself felt quite unpredictable and the events that enfolded just kept on shocking me, I wasn't prepared for how dark it would be. 

This book made me feel angry, upset, and yet it gave me hope. When I turned the final page I felt so sad because I will always want to know more about this world that Atwood has created. It's so fucked-up and chills me to my core, and yet I can't look away. This book is a must-read. 

"Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don't let the bastards grind you down."

Johann
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Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Book Review: The Wilderness Within by John Claude Smith

Derek Gray goes to visit fellow writer Frank Marshall out at his remote house out in the forest. Frank has received an unusual letter from their friend Dizzy who is coming up to meet them, so Derek decides to hang around until he arrives. But then, things start to get really strange as the forest begins to exert its creepy influence over Derek…

“There would never be any way he could leave his own mental prison, the wilderness within.”

This book was weird. To be honest, I might have ended up tossing it to the side and not finishing if it weren’t so short. It starts out pretty interesting, a writer goes out to visit his friend who lives out in the wilderness and things start getting a bit creepy… but then it gets overly pretentious and I hate that kinda shit. Conversations between characters had me sitting there like….WTF was just said?! I’d say I’m relatively bright, but their dialogue had me wanting to reach for a dictionary on numerous occasions. But I didn’t care enough, so I didn’t.

Then all of a sudden, the story takes a turn into what feels like a bad acid trip (I’m surmising as to what a bad acid trip would actually be like) and I got frustrated pretty quickly. I’d love to go into detail about how ridiculous the hallucinations and shit were, but I will never include spoilers in my reviews. So just trust me when I say… it was insanity. I began skimming paragraphs just to GET TO THE END. But THEN there was a twist that I actually liked, and it was this twist that saved it from getting a measly one star. However, the book quickly got overly pretentious again for the ending and I was rolling my eyes SO. HARD. The ending was pretty stupid.

This book seems to be quite hit or miss, on Instagram I had many negative comments, however it does have its 5 star reviews on goodreads. Maybe it just wasn’t for me – I don’t think I’d be willing to read more from this author if his other work is in the same vein. At least the cover is kinda cool! 2 stars from me!

Johann
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Book Review: Everything's Eventual by Stephen King

"I want to make you laugh or cry when you read a story... or do both at the same time. I want your heart, in other words. If you want to learn something, go to school."


"I want to make you laugh or cry when you read a story... or do both at the same time. I want your heart, in other words. If you want to learn something, go to school."

Overall, this collection was a winner for me! However, it does not surpass Night Shift - that one is pretty hard to beat, in my opinion. I thought it would be easiest if I just gave a quick overview for my thoughts on each story as there was only 14 in this collection. Nearly all of the stories got 4 or 5 stars from me - only two failed to meet the mark!

Autopsy Room 4 - really great story that made me feel quite claustrophobic and panicked. Loved the ending in particular!! Trust King to come up with that (excuse the pun)! 4.5 stars

The Man in the Black Suit - a lot of people had said how scary this one was, but unfortunately I did not find it scary at all *sad face*, however I still enjoyed the story and execution! A memorable King short. 4 stars

All That You Love Will Be Carried Away - a surprisingly emotional one that made me feel my feelings... one of those stories that really makes you think and will stay with you long after you put down the book. 4.5 stars

The Death of Jack Hamilton - when I started this one I really didn't think I'd like it, but ended up enjoying it a lot more than I anticipated. A nice surprise! 4 stars

In the Death Room - probably my least favourite in the collection, just fell a little flat for me. No doubt I'll forget about this one pretty quickly! 3.5 stars

The Little Sisters of Eluria - well... I was always going to love this one (I can be honest when it comes to me being a bit biased...). It was AMAZING to be back with Roland in Mid-World, the little references to characters like Cort and Susan had me fangirling, as did all the usual Mid-World dialogue. The story was very compelling as a standalone and I was left wanting more! 5 stars

Everything's Eventual - again, a heavily linked Dark Tower story with the inclusion of Dinky Earnshaw, and again, really really enjoyable. 5 stars

LT's Theory of Pets - this was one of my favourites in the collection! I don't really laugh out loud that often when I read, but King has a way of tickling my funny bone and this one had me chuckling along. Then towards the end he starts toying with my emotions out of nowhere!! 5 stars

The Road Virus Heads North - quite a creepy and unsettling story. Would put me off buying anything from a yard sale. Loved it!! 5 stars

Lunch at the Gotham Cafe - this one was pretty crazy and made me feel pretty nervous. Sometimes if I imagine these things happening in real life it just sets me on edge. Situations like this are my worst nightmare - to be trapped somewhere with a complete psycho! *shivers* 4 stars

That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French - King is right, hell is some form of repetition. This story was terrifying in its own way! 4 stars

1408 - one of my most anticipated stories in this collection as the movie is quite popular (I haven't watched it yet, but now I can!). To be honest, I felt a little disappointed by it? It started out quite well and the premise was intriguing, but really didn't go down the route I expected and just wasn't scary like I hoped it would be. Still a good story, but I just wanted more. 4 stars

Riding the Bullet - another one of my favourites in the collection. It was surprisingly emotional for me - I don't know, it was just pushing a lot of my triggers. I guess King's introduction about how it was related to his mother's death just made me view it in a different way. Loved this one! 5 stars

Luckey Quarter - again, not the best story, pretty forgettable, but it wasn't terrible either! 3.5 stars

So that's my King for the month! I might actually end up reading two King's in May, since we have the release of The Outsider to look forward to at the end of the month. How exciting! Overall, I'd give Everything's Eventual 4.5 stars out of 5. A really solid collection, I was impressed!

Johann
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Friday, 13 April 2018

Book Review: American Supernatural Tales by various

A collection of American supernatural tales ranging from the years 1824 to 2000. Ghosts and elder gods and vampires and demons... oh my!


"That's life for you," said MacDunn. "Someone always waiting for someone who never comes home. Always someone loving some thing more than that thing loves them. And after a while you want to destroy whatever that thing is, so it can't hurt you no more." - The Fog Horn. Ray Bradbury.

This collection was a really interesting read, I really liked how the stories are presented chronologically, so it's almost like you can track the evolution of these supernatural tales and how they change over time.  However, in terms of the quality of the stories themselves, they were mostly hit and miss, but overall I'd say that the good outweighs the bad. I had the opportunity to reread some great stories such as The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, The Call of Cthulhu by HP Lovecraft and Night Surf by Stephen King - The Call of Cthulhu in particular was even better on a second read. If I ignore my rereads within this collection, the stand-out stories were the following: The Fog Horn by Ray Bradbury, The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis by Clark Ashton Smith and The Events at Poroth Farm by T. E. D. Klein.

First of all, The Fog Horn by Ray Bradbury... consider my mind blown. It was simply stunning. It was heartfelt and touching, whilst also being quite atmospheric and chilling. It actually prompted me to pick up a Bradbury short story collection. The writing was absolutely gorgeous and the idea for the story itself was just so unique and unexpected. Highly rate this one!

The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis was just fucking crazy and I was 100% ON BOARD. I read it while having a bath and the water was almost cold when I was getting out, as I just couldn't stop!! It was basically like a Lovecraft story set on Mars with an Alien vibe. I honestly never thought I'd be the type to enjoy stories like that, and yet here we are... I adored this story and am also a major Lovecraft fan!! This one was pretty tense and scary, and will be hard to forget.

The Events at Poroth Farm was pretty much a story that is right up my street. Once there's some kind of demonic possession involved, I'm there. And I'm revelling in it. Read this one if you can, it was fantastic. The sense of foreboding was overwhelming and had me livin' on the edge. There's also a lot of great references to horror and weird fiction as our protagonist is spending his summer reading lots of books out at this farm. So that was an added bonus!

Other highlights for me were Old Renfield's Heart by Robert E. Howard (which I actually read aloud to Matthew and we both enjoyed), The Lonesome Place by August Derleth and What Was It? by Fitz-James O'Brien. Fun fact: recently after reading this book I randomly found out that there is actually an August Derleth award (that King has won I believe) - weird how these things happen. There was also a Shirley Jackson story (The Visit), but I was quite disappointed by this one...which makes me sad.

I had kept a list of ratings for each story, and the average was 3.4, so I think an overall rating of 3.5 seems most fair, doesn't it? This collection is worth it for the stories I highlighted (as well as the Poe, Lovecraft and King ones, if you haven't read those). 

Johann
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Saturday, 7 April 2018

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

Convicted murderer, Sirius Black, has broken out of Azkaban and is on the hunt for Harry Potter. Dementors are called into Hogwarts for protection purposes and Harry forms a close friendship with the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, as the threat of Sirius Black grows ever closer. Basically, there's lots happening.


"You think the dead we have loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don't recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble?"

Okay, so I was pretty sure that Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite HP book in the series, and right now it's leading the charge! The ending of this book broke me and had me in tears. From this point forward I'm just gonna assume whoever is reading this has either read the HP books or has seen the movies - if not, what are you even doing here reading a review for the third book in a series, you psycho?? So there may be spoilers galore!!

When I think of PoA, I think of Sirius Black. Sirius is a character who gets a LOT of love on bookstagram, and I always kinda liked him but was never Sirius-obsessed. Well, now I'm concerned as to my emotional state for future events in the series as I am now HEAD OVER HEELS for Sirius. This won't end well. But I am ready to get hurt. (Isn't it weird how on rereads, when we know what's coming, it doesn't lessen the blow and hurt of heartbreaking events?). The reason why I was so bereft at the end of this was just the thought of Harry thinking that he finally had a "home" - not the living situation he has had with the Dursleys since the death of his parents, but an actual home - and then it quickly being snatched away again. So I was getting all upset over this until he gets his letter from Sirius and then... his permission slip to go to Hogsmeade and all of a sudden it was happy tears running down my face. HP hitting me with the feels!

I also always suffer from major feels when there's any reference to Harry's parents. Hearing Sirius or Remus tell Harry that he is like his father, or for Dumbledore to say that his father is always within him and that "Prongs rode again last night", there is no doubt that an emotional breakdown will ensue. I also get weirdly emotional when it comes to any woes that Hagrid must face (wtf is wrong with me), the entire Buckbeak storyline had me sad and anxious (again, even though I knew the outcome). A personal highlight of this book is when Harry and Ron have fallen out with Hermione and Hagrid feels like he needs to step in and mend bridges, telling them how hurt Hermione is by it all. Hagrid, you deserve all the good things in life <3

This book also had so many funny parts - the phone conversation between Ron and Mr Dursley at the beginning, watching Hermione struggling with all her subjects and losing her cool a number of times and so forth, Draco dressing up as dementor to scare Harry... Oh, and Hermione punching Malfoy in the face!! YASSS GIRL. Usually I don't condone violence, but Malfoy was being extra dickheady at that point. I also love the time travel aspect and the Marauder's map discovery - so much COOL stuff in this book.

Although I refuse to believe that Gryffindor won the House Championship for a third year in a row. MY ASS.

To be honest, I'm pretty gutted to come to the end of the illustrated editions, all 3 have been absolutely gorgeous. I think the best artwork has been in this one - for me personally - maybe because the series is starting to get slightly darker, and therefore so does the artwork. I can't wait for the release of the remaining books in the series! Dying to progress with my big HP reread, but taking a slight breather before diving into Goblet of Fire. 5 stars for this one!!

Johann
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