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Saturday, 30 June 2018

Book Review: Boy's Life by Robert McCammon

Zephyr, Alabama, is an idyllic hometown for eleven-year-old, Cory Mackenson - a place where monsters swim the river and friends are forever.


"See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our ages. Told to grow up, for God's sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they'd allowed to wither in themselves."

If you haven't read Boy's Life yet, if you don't even have a copy, drop everything you're doing and get a copy and read it. It's not everyday when a book comes along and burrows itself into your heart and soul. Stephen King couldn't have put it better when he said "Books are a uniquely portable magic" and this book IS magic. It's right in there, glittering between the pages.

Nothing I have read has so accurately and poignantly portrayed growing up. There's (hopefully) lots of joy and happiness and magic dispersed throughout your younger years, but unfortunately there can also be some heartbreak and loss, and McCammon beautifully presents all these different emotions seamlessly.

Cory's coming-of-age tale is intertwined with the unravelling of the mystery of a dead body in his small town. The two different threads are woven together so intricately and McCammon does an incredible job of moving both storylines along at a pace that feels natural. Boy's Life is not ABOUT the mystery, but it's about Cory as an adult looking back at the magical place where he grew up. McCammon's writing itself is some of the best I've ever had the pleasure of reading, and he manages to cover so many themes with such ease - childhood, realism, racism, fantasy, death - I am truly in awe.

You will laugh and you will undoubtedly cry (unless you have a cold black stone residing in your chest instead of a heart). And when I say cry, I mean UGLY cry. There's no beautiful solitary tear rolling down the cheek. There is full-on sobbing. There was a particular scene towards the end involving Cory's father that was really personal for me and what I took away from it will stay with me forever.

Not only one of my favourite books of 2018, but one of the best books I've read in my life.

ALL. THE. STARS.

Johann
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Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Book Review: Come to Dust by Bracken MacLeod

After Sophie is abandoned by her mother, Mitch takes on the role of looking after his niece. After Sophie tragically dies, his life is flipped upside down. But then across the world, scores of children inexplicably rise from the dead, and Sophie is one of them...


"He knew from experience, it only takes a single night for the whole world to change."
Come to Dust was a bit of a mixed bag, the start was really promising and had a few chilling scenes that would unsettle even the most hardened horror veteran. However, around the middle it becomes a tad stale and drags on for longer than necessary. It also becomes more action heavy, which is not to my personal taste. Towards the end it became more of a crawl to the finish line, than a race, which is always a letdown.

Horror set against a backdrop of grief and loss can be bookish heaven if executed correctly, but this one just fell short of the mark. He does a great job of tapping into every parent's worst fear, the loss of a child. The author has a note towards the back where he explains his inspiration for the story and although it's particularly poignant, it isn't enough to save it. One redeeming factor is McLeod's writing - it's polished, heart-wrenching and effective - however, (fully aware that every good thing is followed by a negative, oops) there was quite a lot of description, too much at times. But at least it was written well!

Another complaint is the use of character names that are too similar - why do authors insist on doing this? (Also looking at you, King). A Mitch and a Mike? Half my time is spent clarifying which character is being referred to and that just takes me out of the story. So to all budding authors: don't do this.

Overall it's a unique take on the "zombie" genre and does have a lot of positives, so it's worth trying to see if it's more to your taste. I'm also very open to reading more of MacLeod's work, as some of his writing was truly breathtaking.

3 stars.

Johann
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Friday, 15 June 2018

Book Review: The Outsider by Stephen King

An eleven-year-old's body is found in a park following a brutal murder. Eyewitness accounts and fingerprint evidence point to the popular Little League coach and teacher, Terry Maitland. But Terry also has an alibi for the time of the crime...


"Reality is thin ice, but most people skate on it their whole lives and never fall through until the very end."

MY BOY'S STILL GOT IT. I straight up loved this book from the very first page until the final words. King proves once again that he is the master when it comes to horror and suspense. This book had me feeling disturbed and unsettled on a few occasions, whilst also having me sending frantic messages to my BG friends like "What the eff just happened?!"

Those first 2-300 pages were simply unputdownable. It was so addictive that I was seriously considering booking days off work so that I could just fly through it. But it's also so good that I wanted to take my time and really savour being in a great King book. There were twists and turns galore, and at no point could I really predict what route King would go down. I love King most of all when he is completely unpredictable. 

One of my favourite things about King's writing is those scenes that really just feel so simple. And by that I mean different characters or family members just chatting in the kitchen over a coffee. He has a way of making seemingly "bland" parts of the story really damn interesting. He just knows how to craft these characters we care about and have them interact in a way that feels real. He doesn't need to be building constant suspense or throwing scares our way to hook your attention. It's the more quiet moments in his books that I live for. And there's plenty of those in here as well as the crazy, exciting, unsettling parts. A couple of scenes in particular had those little hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. He's STILL killin' it.

I really liked these characters a lot more than those presented in Sleeping Beauties, these ones actually did feel more memorable. We also got to see the reappearance of a certain King character that I found very exciting. I was just fangirling all over the place. Connections and crossovers within the King universe will always please us Constant Readers.

I've warned everyone on my instagram numerous times... but if by some chance you're reading this and you haven't read The Outsider yet OR the Bill Hodges trilogy, I strongly recommend reading the Hodges trilogy first. You're doing yourself a disservice if you don't. If you have zero interest in ever reading the trilogy then work away, but if not... you will be MAJORLY spoiled. And no one enjoys that shit.

I just feel so happy that King is still writing and releasing books of this quality. I get a bit pissed when people throw shade on King's more recent stuff and say things like "Oh I much prefer classic King". Would you want your favourite band to keep releasing albums over and over that have the same kind of sound? No, I want my bands to evolve and change, just like I want King to. He is constantly trying different things, or different genres. He doesn't rest on his laurels, he's always trying to challenge himself and I respect that. Thankee-Sai.

Probably my favourite book of 2018 so far - all the stars!

Johann
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Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Book Review: End of Watch by Stephen King

Retired Detective Bill Hodges and his sidekick Holly find themselves investigating a recent spree of suicides. But all of the dead are connected by a common thread: each of them had been in previous contact with Brady Hartsfield, the notorious Mercedes Killer. 


“Because things can get better, and if you give them a chance, they usually do."

Reviewing this book brings up an internal debate about how one should rate a book using the standard star system. If a book is given a 5 star rating by myself, usually it will mean that I LOVED it, and the book was particularly special or unique, or just offered something different. But I do not think you can directly compare 5 star books to each other. For example, I gave Charlie the Choo Choo 5 stars, because it was such a cool, unique idea and I couldn’t fault it, for what IT was, but by no means is Charlie the Choo in the same league as Pet Sematary or 11/22/63 (both of which I also gave 5 stars). You get me? I think the genre, or even what the book is intending to be, also comes into play.

Another factor for me, is how it makes me FEEL. If a book can rip my heart out and stomp all over it, and if it does so in such an effective way, then yes, that book will be 5 stars for me. I’m admittedly quite an emotional person, I’ll cry at the drop of a hat, but it takes something special for me to produce literal tears when reading a book. And this is the reason why Stephen King is my favourite author – on numerous occasions he has been able to unlock that part of my heart and trigger the terrifying sight that is me ugly crying. End of Watch was one of those books. I’ll discuss why at the end of this review, as I need to get a bit spoilery in order to do so (but I WILL have a spoiler warning before this final part).

End of Watch was the most KING book of the trilogy. He’s a pro when it comes to crossing genres and throwing them all together into one big pot. The most obvious example of this is the Dark Tower series. It is very hard to simply categorise a lot of King books, as he likes to throw in a bit of horror with a bit of fantasy, adding in a dash of family drama, perhaps some romance too? Mr Mercedes and Finders Keepers were almost like King’s take on a detective/crime series, it had good story telling, with great character building (typical King, eh?) but then End of Watch comes and King is unable to unleash all the traits that we know and love him for. He goes back to his roots! It becomes UNPREDICTABLE – I thought the previous two books in the series felt a bit more generic and formulaic. So I really welcomed this shift in genre!

I had found Holly a tad irritating at the beginning of the trilogy and really wasn’t understanding why most people seemed to be a part of her fan club, but by the end I was a huge Holly fan. She had really grown on me, and her relationship with Hodges, as well as Jerome, was just so heartwarming. The father/daughter dynamic between Hodges and Holly felt very natural and was a bit of an emotional trigger for me. I really enjoyed the story itself in this one too, some bits were possibly a bit drawn out, I didn’t need all the technical details.

And that ending. Oh boy. King gets a lot of flack for his endings – which I don’t think is always deserved – but this one was absolutely perfect. I was so fucking nervous reading those last 50 pages or so, I really had no clue what twists and turns King was going to pull on me.

Overall, I really enjoyed the Hodges trilogy. I don’t necessarily think it’s his strongest work, but it has a lot of great themes in there, and some unforgettable characters. It’s just so nice to see King take risks and do something different so late in his career. End of Watch gets 5 stars from me!

Now for the SPOILERY part.

LOOK AWAY if you haven’t finished the trilogy…

Hodges’ death was just one of the most soul-crushing experiences I’ve ever had reading a book. We knew it was coming from quite early on in the final book, but it really didn’t lessen the blow. And that’s true in real life as well unfortunately. I was quite literally bawling my eyes out over those final pages. Then I set the book down, got myself together… started crying again minutes later. And then again. King manages to build these characters that we can really connect with and stay with you long after you close the book. And if King can build a story and introduce me to characters that have that much of an impact on me, then that book is getting a 5 star rating (even if it wasn’t perfect for me). Bill Hodges has cemented his place in my top King characters <3 

Johann
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Saturday, 2 June 2018

Book Review: Finders Keepers by Stephen King

Petty criminal Morris Bellamy robs and murders acclaimed author John Rohnstein after feeling unsatisfied with the ending of his famous trilogy of books. Morris ends up going to jail on a rape charge, but years later Peter Saubers finds the trunk that Morris buried containing the stolen money and Rohnstein's unpublished works. A few years after Peter's discovery, Morris is released from prison and wants back what he feels is his...


"For readers, one of life's most electrifying discoveries is that they are readers - not just capable of doing it, but in love with it. Hopelessly. Head over heels."

You love books, I love books. We all love books. But King takes this book obsession to another level with two of his characters: one of which is the simply iconic and unforgettable Annie Wilkes, and the other is the despicable Morris Bellamy. Please never go this far, guys. Holding your favourite author hostage/murdering him so you can steal his unpublished works is just...too much. Let's just stick to fangirling over our favourites on all forms of social media.

Finders Keepers is an enjoyable detour away from the main story found within Mr Mercedes. The pace itself completely changes. Mr Mercedes is a fast-paced page-turner where your heart is in your mouth on multiple occasions. Finders Keepers feels more KING to me. That slow burn where King builds the foundations of a great story and then turns up the heat. I'm here for it!!

Very quickly I am fully absorbed in the story of the Saubers family. They've fallen on hard times after the father Tom was injured in the incident at the job fair, and the very likeable Pete thinks of a way to relieve the tension building between his parents after finding a trunk full of money and notebooks. For a while you're left wondering how exactly this will fully tie into the mish-mash trio of Hodges, Holly and Jerome, but King weaves it all so perfectly. For approximately the first half of the book, King flips back and forth between present day and the past, and as always, he does so seamlessly.

King explores literature and the love of reading in Finders Keepers, and that was one of my favourite things about this book. King so perfectly depicts how it feels to fall in love with reading, and it is very easy for him to do so because he is an avid reader himself. He gets us. His passion for reading is just as obvious as his love for writing. It's interesting to see how two passionate readers, the two main characters Pete and Morris, differ in their obsession. One is significantly more unhealthy than the other.

Holly is growing on me the more I get to know her, and my love for Bill Hodges continues to grow. I can take or leave Jerome - I just find it uncomfortable when King lets Jerome fall into speaking in his demeaning, and frankly unfunny, dialect. I think it's unnecessary.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed Finders Keepers. I love when King explores the relationship between an author and the reader. Really excited to see how the entire trilogy wraps up in End of Watch! I give this one 4 stars.

Johann
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