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Saturday, 26 May 2018

Book Review: Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

Retired cop Bill Hodges is haunted by an unsolved crime where innocent people were waiting for entry into a job fair when a lone driver plows through the crowd in a Mercedes, injuring and killing many. When he receives a letter from the perp threatening another evil act, Hodges becomes hellbent on preventing such horror happening again.



"Everybody likes the ice cream man."

I could read true crime until it made my eyeballs bleed, but there's just something about crime fiction or detective stories that don't really appeal to me. So to know that King's Bill Hodges trilogy is kind of a cat-and-mouse detective story didn't fill me with much excitement. But let's cut to the chase - overall, I really enjoyed Mr Mercedes, but it is nowhere near being King's best.

It's a page-turner and you constantly want to know what happens next, which propels you through the story. From the get-go we do know who the killer is, and that removes some of "mystery", but I liked getting into our villain's head - even though I fucking hate him with the passion of a thousand burning suns. I hated him until we got the backstory behind his younger brother, and then I REALLY fucking hated him, that part left me in tears.

As for the other characters, Bill Hodges is one of my new faves. I don't know what it is about him exactly, but I just find him so lovable. I loved how he treats Jerome and Holly, and those around him. He's just very likeable and believable. I know Holly is a huge fan favourite for most people, and although I like her I do find her a bit irritating at times... I'M SORRY. Jerome is cool though.

It's a strange read though. Some aspects feel very King, but others just don't feel like King at all. I'll start with those aspects that didn't feel very King-like: the lack of horror or a supernatural element (yes, it was quite unsettling at times and the methods used by our villain are terrifying but it's not PROPER horror), the storyline itself just felt un-King, the location...we're not in Maine or anywhere near it, it just didn't FEEL like a King location. However, King's fingerprints are all over it in terms of the development of his characters, the writing, and his dialogue. 

To me, Mr Mercedes felt like a well-written but kinda generic crime fiction book. It's a fun ride, but there's nothing overly substantial in there. However, this is part of a trilogy so I'm excited to see if this changes. That ending though *rolls eyes* It felt like I was watching a soap opera on a Friday afternoon and they had to make sure you tuned in on Monday. A tad cheesy and predictable. But it DID work in a way as I couldn't wait to pick up Finder's Keepers!

You can see how my thoughts are all over the place with this one. In terms of sheer enjoyment, I would give it 4 stars out of 5, but I do have a few issues.

Johann
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Monday, 21 May 2018

Book Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

The story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze, whom he lovingly thinks of as Lolita.


“I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita.” 

Probably one of the most difficult reviews to write, as reading Lolita had many ups and downs and conflicted feelings! However, I feel like I need to preface my review by saying that I was NOT having a good mental health week during the time that I read Lolita and I think that was probably the cause of a lot of my grievances. So, I’m sorry to use this tired cliché, Lolita, but it’s not you, it’s me.

When I started Lolita I had a very vague idea of what the storyline involved, so safe to say I was quite taken aback by the explicit content, especially when its pertaining to such a young girl, or as Humbert likes to call her, a “nymphet”. On that note, if I never hear of the word “nymphet” again for as long as I live, I’ll be more than happy. Saying that, Nabokov has a strange talent, the talent to be able to talk about such a disturbing topic so beautifully. His prose is simply incredible, and English is not even his first language – I was blown away by the writing.

However, and this is a huge HOWEVER, I really don’t think my brain was capable of handling such dense and wordy text. All week I had been suffering from a lack of concentration and not being able to focus, and this transferred to when I was reading Lolita. It would take me ages to get through one page, and so I become quite frustrated and impatient. I didn’t want to read about Humbert’s intricate descriptions of all the different hotels he was travelling around – I just did NOT care. And then when you combine this with his descriptions of Lolita… I was just emotionally and mentally exhausted!! In hindsight, I maybe should have put Lolita to the side and came back to it when I was more mentally capable of dealing with it.

I enjoyed the story though, as disturbing as it was. I don’t believe it glorifies paedophilia in any way, and I think that is evident by the ending we get. It’s clearly an incredible controversial topic and I won’t be rushing out to buy any more books that touch upon it! Although I think Nabokov does a great job of getting inside Humbert’s head – overall, I really believe Humbert as a character, he felt incredibly real to me. I just didn’t form any kind of attachment to Lolita herself, I found her to be quite selfish and petty – but again, she IS a child and she is going through some shit… As well as that, Humbert is quite the unreliable narrator so who even knows what Lolita was truly like. I just think in order for me to really enjoy a book I will usually need to form some sort of attachment to the characters and there’s literally no one in this book that I cared about.

I could seemingly ramble on and on about Lolita, but I’ll wrap it up by saying that I can appreciate how stunningly disturbing this book is (what a freaking crazy reading experience). Seriously, the writing is AMAZING. I just wish I could have enjoyed it more on a personal level. 2.5 stars from me!

Johann
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Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Book Review: Hell Hound by Ken Greenhall

Baxter is a sociopathic bull terrier who is on the hunt for his perfect master, as he plots the demise of his current owner...


"What if some morning as the old woman stood at the head of the staircase she were suddenly to feel a weight thrusting against the back of her legs? ... What would become of me if she were found unmoving at the bottom of the stairway?"

Days later and I am still thinking about this book. I even gave my boyfriend a detailed description of the events in the book (which I'm pretty sure he loved - let's not ask him though). I just honestly did not expect SUCH a great story, in fact I'd never even heard of Hell Hound nor the author before - thank god for The Nocturnal Reader's Box, eh!?

What I really enjoyed about this was the fact that the story is told from a number of different POV's - we have the POV of the dog, Baxter, and then a number of the humans that come into contact with him. This book started off being quite humorous, some of Baxter's thoughts and comments were hilarious. Then it takes a bit of a dark turn... although some humour is still retained. I actually got quite intense Apt Pupil vibes at times, and we all know that novella is dark as shit!! I was uncomfortable for sure.  However I did feel like I was looking at dogs a little bit differently after reading this one... WHO KNOWS WHAT'S GOING ON IN THEIR MINDS? Are they plotting to kill us?! I don't know!!

The story itself didn't feel dated, it almost felt like it could have been written in recent times. There are seriously dark undertones and I constantly felt on edge as I really didn't know what to expect. Greenhall kept me guessing right until the end, and holy SHIT, that ending. I LOVED IT. I did have a teeny tiny minor issue with the story that I can't really go into much detail on without giving a potential spoiler, but some ridiculously bad parenting left me a bit pissed off and felt a tad unrealistic (hence it doesn't get the full 5 star treatment).

Basically, I DIG THIS. Very much. But if you are a bit sensitive when it comes to doggos...beware. I just tell myself that it's fiction and therefore it's fine. But I know that doesn't work for everyone. Thoroughly enjoyed this one - 4 and a half stars!

Johann
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Monday, 14 May 2018

Book Review: Danse Macabre by Stephen King

A non-fiction book that focuses on horror fiction throughout movies, film, television and radio, and what is it about the genre that captivates so many horror enthusiasts.


"We fall from womb to tomb, from one blackness and toward another, remembering little of the one and knowing nothing of the other."

The Master of Horror discussing the genre of horror?? Sign me up! This was admittedly better than I expected - I expected a stuffy essay that would be a chore to read at times. Luckily, this wasn't really the case at all. I'm a huge fan of when King talks directly to his Constant Reader, whether it be in his introductions or his afterwords, or even in On Writing. He has such a knack of pulling you in and making it feel like it's just you and him, chilling, sharing a coffee while he divulges all his thoughts and opinions. Just me and King sharing a caramel square.

The huge downside of Danse Macabre is that it is outdated - this was released in 1981, of course. There's been a plethora of horror movies and books since then! In the edition I read there were two updated forewords where King talks about some of the more recent horror movies. He has a HUGE love for The Blair Witch which I really enjoyed reading about. I would love if he decided to release an updated version where he covers all the important horror books or movies in the last 30 years or so, because he clearly still has an avid passion for both, as evident on his twitter.

Be prewarned - King is spoilerific in here. He is dropping spoilers like there's no tomorrow. But don't worry, if you've a firm background knowledge in horror then you should be fine. However, there were some instances in which I had to skip entire chunks because he was discussing a few books that are still on my TBR, books like Ghost Story by Peter Straub, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury etc. But I have made a note of the books he covered that I haven't read yet so that I can come back to those relevant sections in Danse Macabre when I do get around to them! I loved his deep analysis of books like The Haunting of Hill House and why it worked. I loved how he had quotes and excerpts from a lot of these authors discussing their relevant works and the horror genre itself.

One of the most boring parts of the book, for me anyway, is when he talks about radio and television. Over the years I have caught up on, and intend to catch up on, a lot of horror books and movies from the past, however I have pretty much zero knowledge regarding horror on the radio or television from back in the day. But these were only covered in about two chapters or so, so it's not too boring for long.

Dispersed throughout are a lot of King's own experiences with horror and little anecdotes about his life, which I really enjoyed. He talks about how Lovecraft was the one who first got him into serious fantasy-horror fiction (I approve), and he has a fun little story about a young Joe Hill that had me laughing out loud. He also made a lot of Lord of the Rings references which I particularly enjoyed...

So, yes! Overall this was a pretty good read. But I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to someone unless they really were a fan of the horror genre. Fingers crossed that King provides an updated version at some point!! 3 and a half 5 stars for this one!

Johann
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Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Book Review: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

A collection of stories based on American folklore written with the intention of giving you the creeps or making you jump with fright. The stories are accompanied by delightfully disturbing illustrations provided by Stephen Gammell.


"In the dark and the gloom, it is easy for someone listening to imagine all sorts of strange and scary things."

Anytime I post these books on instagram, people lose their shit. It seems that everyone overseas (and by overseas I mean America or Canada) can attribute all their childhood nightmares to the stories and illustrations found within these collections. A lot of people also say that these books were almost like their gateway into horror. Sadly, I did not have such an experience growing up *sad face*. Quite honestly I had never even heard of these until I saw them on instagram - and then I WANTED them. But they're quite tough to find over here! Luckily, I won a giveaway hosted by one of my BG buddies, Sadie, and now I have 3 of these in my collection.

So, this was my first encounter with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I tried to remind myself that these stories are written for children, I'm not necessarily the target audience. A lot of the stories were fun, and I can definitely see how those illustrations would be nightmare fuel for a younger group, but I was never actually scared or creeped out at any point. I mean, if I was, I guess I would be slightly worried... it's a children's book!! But I still enjoyed the experience! And the illustrations. And all I could think was that I can't wait to share these with my future children. This will be their gateway into all things horror. This will be their stepping stone to Stephen King (of course they won't be allowed to touch my collection, they can buy their own copies!)

One of the highlights for me was getting to read some of my fave urban legends, like the The Hook, High Beams and The Babysitter. Now THOSE stories do have the potential to freak me out, because they're things that could very much happen to any one of us! And that aspect of horror hits a little close to home for me. I also remember hearing one of the stories on Last Podcast on the Left - Me Tie Dough-ty - that story where a human head falls down the chimney each night. So it was fun to revisit that one too!

Overall, it was fun to read these and the illustrations in particular were the best part! I just wish I had at least grown up with them so that I could feel the same nostalgia towards them that nearly everyone else seems to! But never fear, the next generation in my family will... I'd give this 3 and a half stars out of 5!

Johann
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Saturday, 5 May 2018

Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman


Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. She goes home on a Friday and doesn’t speak to anyone until she goes back into work on Monday. She has her weekly phone calls with Mummy and is perfectly happy with the lack of social interaction in her life. Unless maybe she isn’t.


“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn't spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”

Is it strange that my first thought is to liken Eleanor Oliphant to Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm?? And by that I am referring to her hilarious social commentary. She says what she thinks and comments on those social conventions that she finds a bit…strange. And I love her for that alone!

I just needed to get that thought out of the way first. This is in no way the usual genre of book I read these days, but ever since September last year I have been asking some of my bookstagram friends to choose a book for me to read each month and this was my friend Madalina’s choice. And I’m really glad she chose it, because who knows if I would have picked it up otherwise! This was an emotional rollercoaster, I was laughing out loud one minute and then the next I was almost feeling a physical pain in my heart from being SO SAD. It’s almost a 400-page book and I flew through it in a matter of days. Once Eleanor carves her way into your heart, it’s hard to put the damn book down.

Admittedly it can be difficult to form any sort of endearment for Eleanor at first, she comes across as a bit rude and arrogant. But as you get to know her better and understand her past, as well as her mental illness, you do feel really sorry for her. And then she meets Raymond and my heart swells up with so much love for their friendship. Those times when Eleanor expresses surprise and is incredulous that anyone would want to spend time with her or do nice things for her… MY HEART.

This is just a lovely book that will help restore your faith in humanity and the goodness of people. It might also make you think a little differently about how you treat others, because we never know what struggles those around us are trying to deal with. A little kindness and reaching out to someone in need can go a long way.

I’m not giving this one 5 stars, because it wasn’t the perfect book for me, a little something was missing and yet I can’t pinpoint exactly what. Sometimes I got the impression Eleanor was perhaps autistic? Yet this was never confirmed and it confused me a little. But trust me when I say this is worth the read and it will make you feel things! Even if you have a black heart like myself. 4 stars out of 5!

Johann

Friday, 4 May 2018

Book Review: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

The unusual occurrences in the MacNeil house could easily be explained away – rats in the attic, misplaced furniture - but the disturbing changes in Regan MacNeil’s behaviour could not. Doctors are unable to diagnose what could have caused this shift in personality, so Regan’s mother turns to Father Damien Karras, who is suffering from his own lack of faith.


“We mourn the blossoms of May because they are to whither; but we know that May is one day to have its revenge upon November, by the revolution of that solemn circle which never stops – which teaches us in our height of hope, ever to be sober, and in our depth of desolation, never to despair.”

I’m finally writing a proper book review for one of my favourite books of all time after reading it for the third time. But let’s go way back to the start… The Exorcist was pretty much my gateway into reading horror. Growing up I hated horror, you couldn’t have paid me to watch a horror movie – I blame my brothers forcing me to watch Freddy Krueger at a very young age and mentally scarring me – but in my late teens, I was intrigued. I started off by watching the Scream movies to ease me into the genre, but pretty quickly my movie choices escalated into what is considered one of the most terrifying movies of all time – The Exorcist. It quickly became one of my favourite movies and I decided I needed to read the book. And so my journey into horror literature began.

I remember thinking the book wouldn’t be as scary the movie, but boy was I wrong. I think the book is somehow more terrifying. Granted, we don’t have the incredible cinematography or that haunting score, but what we have instead is a slow and tense build as Regan falls under the possession of Pazuzu. During my readalong of this book a number of people seemed to be surprised by William Peter Blatty’s prose. A lot of people were like “Shit, this guy can write”. And he can! After reading this, Legion and The Ninth Configuration, he would rank as one of my favourite authors, and so I take a lot of pleasure in people “discovering” Blatty as a writer.

Another surprising aspect for a number of people was how emotional the book is. I shed a few tears at the end myself. Damien Karras is one of the most well-written and believable characters I’ve ever come across. He struggles with his faith as he tries to decipher exactly what is happening with Regan and you can really feel the turmoil he is going through. He is a psychologist as well as a priest, so I found it really interesting to get inside his mind and follow his thought process and research - is Regan possessed or can this be explained by some psychological disorder? As someone who believes in demonic possession, I find these sections of the book incredibly informative. And they help me build my argument for people who try to tell me that these things don’t exist because all the symptoms can be explained away by science. In my opinion, they can’t. *insert sassy emoji*

This book is one of the very very few that I struggle to read in bed at night. I’ve become very desensitised to horror, but I think a lot of us still have certain triggers that overwhelm us and send our brain into overdrive. Demonic possession is one of my triggers, as are murderous home invaders (I’m looking at you Golden State Killer). As well as being unnerving and scary, it gets pretty uncomfortable to read at times, particularly when it comes to trying to imagine a young girl screaming expletives in a growling voice coupled with her constant projectile vomiting. And the crucifix scene. I honestly felt like I needed to go to mass after reading that scene. It will always remain one of the most horrific excerpts I’ve ever read.

One of my favourite aspects of The Exorcist, and Blatty’s works in general (what I’ve read so far anyway), is his examination of good vs evil. This seems to be a recurrent theme and one that he is very accomplished at exploring. This merely isn’t a story about the possession of a young girl, but its really a commentary on a vast range of topics such as faith and the lack of it, to what exists after death, if anything exists at all. It might be presented as “horror” on the surface, but really it goes so much deeper than that.

All the stars!! It somehow gets better on each read.

Johann
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