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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.

Johann
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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.

Johann
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Sunday, 26 August 2018

Book Review: The Wicked by James Newman

An ancient demon lurks beneath the town of Morganville, an unholy creature conjured into existence by the tragedy at the Heller Home for Children. And it wants the souls of the townspeople...


"A place possessed... by an unholy being named MOLOCH."

Well, this was a DAMN good time! If you're a fan of 80s horror, then this is a book you need to pick up. The perfect homage to all the things we love about 80s horror - but the only difference between this and quite a lot of 80s horror is that this is very well written *shade thrown*

Newman is a fantastic writer, he creates a family and characters that you really care about from the get-go. The stakes are high and you really do feel tense as Newman ramps up the pressure. You know that NO character is safe, and I really love that in a book. I hate when you're reading and you just know a certain character will get out of a sticky situation because the author doesn't have the balls to kill his darlings... Reading is so much more enjoyable when anything could happen to ANY character.

There is gore and blood, and a LOT of body fluids! I was laughing out loud at some of the sex scenes in this one - they're quite graphic and disgusting, but fun?! The copious amounts of sex and orgies really did give it that 80s horror vibe. I just really enjoyed the rollercoaster ride that this book was - it's a real page-turner! Short chapters really help you fly through it, but you won't want to put it down anyways.

Demons/demonology are probably my favourite horror trope, so this book ticked all my boxes. I even got the pleasure of looking up Moloch in my Encyclopaedia of Demonology for extra tidbits - yes, I do own such a book. 

Highly recommend this one if you want a horror book that is pretty scary and unsettling at times, whilst also being lots of fun. I will definitely be picking up more from Newman!

4.5 stars.

Johann
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Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Book Review: The Long Walk by Stephen King/Richard Bachman


On the first day of May each year, one hundred boys will take part in “The Long Walk”. Breaking the rules results in warnings. More than three warnings and you’ll get your ticket and you’re out of the race.


“They walked through the rainy dark like gaunt ghosts, and Garraty didn’t like to look at them. They were the walking dead.” 

I’ve felt for quite a while now that my top 10 Kings are pretty solid – before reading this I had about 13 or 14 left to read and none of them really seem like possible contenders (apart from maybe The Green Mile). In particular, I never thought a goddamn Bachman book would break the top 10 (we have a rocky relationship me and Bachman). And yet here we are! The Long Walk didn’t just break into the top 10, but the top 5!
 
From the outset I thought The Long Walk would just be another dystopian novel (I say “another” quite loosely as surely this was one of the first?), but boy was I wrong. Below the surface, this book touches upon so many different themes and topics, like mortality, identity, friendship, and countless others. If you’ve followed my King journey you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of the books in which King tackles death, grief, loss and mortality. That’s kinda my wheelhouse. All of these rank in my top 10: Pet Sematary, Duma Key, Lisey’s Story, Bag of Bones… and stories like The Woman in the Room and The Last Rung on the Ladder (both of these appear in Night Shift, which is also on the list). The Long Walk is heavy on both mortality and death.
 
King started writing this when he was eighteen. EIGHTEEN. And yet this will surpass many of the books I read in my lifetime. I’m not sure how much editing was done between his first draft and when it was actually released, but either way, this is a fascinating idea for a book. Only King could make the story of one hundred boys walking down a road so fucking nail-biting and engrossing. It is dripping with tension and dread. My heart would be racing in my chest – when some of those boys stumbled I would be screaming “GET UP” in my head!
 
So many King books have had an impact on me, but this has been one of the most impressive. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it or talking about it. I almost wanted to stop strangers in the street and tell them all about the amazing book I was reading. I had to settle for telling my boyfriend all about it instead – but even then he was kinda like “So?” *shrugs*… and that’s the thing. The plot sounds interesting, yes, but it’s the immersive experience you have when reading this one that really sticks with you. It’s the characters you get to know. It’s the looming black cloud of death that hangs over these boys. I cried on countless occasions during this read – death is a very real fear for me, and when I think of what these boys must have been going through, it got to be too much at times.
 
As for the characters themselves, King has written them all in such a way that they’re very individual, with their own personalities and traits. McVries in particular stands out for me. You get the impression he may not have been the best person in the world before this experience, but he becomes a really decent guy throughout the walk, he becomes someone for our main protagonist, Garraty, to lean on. I love McVries <3 and Stebbins too! 
 
It’s a brutal read, it’s heartbreaking, there are certain scenes you’ll simply never forget – but ultimately, it’s worth it. It also gave me one of the worst book hangovers I’ve ever had, I’m so thankful for podcasts and people online who will allow me to dwell in this story that King created for a little while longer. It’s emotionally exhausting and physically draining, but its monumental impact will stay with me forever.
 
5 stars.

Johann
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Friday, 17 August 2018

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

The Triwizard Tournament is being held at Hogwarts this year, a competition that hasn't been held for a hundred years. Two other rival schools of magic will take part as Harry is forced to take part following the mysterious introduction of his name into the Goblet of Fire...

"What's comin' will come, an' we'll meet it when it does."

Oh Hagrid, you sweet cinnamon roll. He has a bit of a tough time in this one (when does he not, to be honest), but still manages to retain his dignity and come out stronger on the other side. I'm really feeling more appreciative of Hagrid on this re-read. I couldn't deal with how sad I felt when he was considering resigning from his post at Hogwarts following all the scandal after the Daily Prophet article. He got all sad and upset, and when Hagrid is upset, you bet your ass I am upset!!

Anyway, I went on a bit of a Hagrid detour there... back to the book itself. I thought my big reread of 2018 would help me finally decide upon which Harry Potter book is my favourite. Four books in and I'm already feeling conflicted between Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire! I don't think I'll ever have a definitive answer to that question - and that ain't a bad thing.

One of my favourite things about Goblet of Fire is getting to learn more about the two other Wizarding schools. I am a sucker for learning and knowledge. And the whole Triwizard Tournament in general is just so much fun! Harry's preparation and studying before teach of the tasks remind me of being in school, and given that I was one of those strange beings who enjoyed school, this is a very pleasurable reading experience.

Goblet of Fire also has Molly Weasley being extra maternal towards Harry and these scenes always pull at my heart strings. The world needs more Molly Weasley's - she just reminds me of my own mum (how lucky am I!). And then we also have all the DRAMA of the Yule Ball! In particular, Harry and Ron being rude AF - their poor dates!! This one also hurts my heart in terms of the big fall out between Harry and Ron, it just doesn't feel right when those two aren't talking. It makes me sad. Trust Hermione to be the one to bang their heads together and sort shit out.

My only minor nitpick with this one is the Quidditch World Cup. I'm sorry, but I just could not care any less. Any time Quidditch comes up I'm just skimming through, skipping ahead to more important things. Sports scenes like this are much more exciting to watch than read. Don't care!

Harry Potter really brings out every emotion possible - from laughing your head off, to smiling broadly like an idiot at really poignant parts, to crying over THAT death, to getting so fucking angry at stupid Rita Shreever!! These books have it all - they're an emotional rollercoaster. But this is when the books start to get really dark - it's a tough ride from here, folks...

5 stars.

Johann
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Saturday, 11 August 2018

Book Review: Books of Blood Volumes 4-6 by Clive Barker

14 more horrifying tales from the master of darkness and body horror... These are the stories written on the Book of Blood.


"What the boy had said was true. The dead have highways. Only the living are lost."

When I read Books of Blood Volumes 1-3, I was completely blown away by how much I loved pretty much every story in there. I'd find it very difficult to fault that collection in any way! Although Volumes 4-6 were still AMAZING, there were a few stories that I less excited about, and will no doubt forget quite quickly.

Short story collections are difficult to review, especially when they're SO GOOD, as I just want to gush about each individual stories and all the reasons I enjoyed them... but hey, we'd be here all day. So I thought I'd just highlight my absolute favourites (which is nearly all of them...)

  • The Body Politic is an insane story where human hands have decided to rebel and depart from their owners' bodies. I realise this sounds absolutely ludicrous but Barker has the ability to make the ludicrous really freakin' cool and interesting!
  • The Forbidden, the inspiration for the movie Candyman (and also the inspiration for a lot of people's childhood nightmares), is a gruesome and highly imaginative story in which the locals are keeping hush about a series of recent murders and mutilations
  • Down, Satan! is a short (but not sweet) story about a guy who thinks that Satan has abandoned him and therefore builds Hell on Earth to summon him back
  • In the Flesh was FUCKING AMAZING. This one is about a prisoner who claims he's in jail to obtain guidance from his grandfather who had died there years before. The ending was one of the best I've ever read in a short story... wow.
  • The Life of Death involves a woman meeting a man who shares her fascination for death. The twists and turns in this one kept me on my toes!
  • The Last Illusion gave me intense Hellhound Heart vibes, clearly Barker dabbling with the idea of Cenobites
  • And lastly, the conclusion itself to the Books of Blood was just so beautifully written and reminds exactly why I love Barker so much

I really could have heaped praise on about 12 of the stories in here, there was only two that I really didn't enjoy that much - Twilight at the Towers and How Spoilers Bleed. I just found them a tad boring... and the general storylines weren't to my interest, I guess! But the rest of the collection is simply brilliant.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Barker has an imagination like no other. I'm actually devastated to be finished with the Books of Blood *cries*

Highly recommend if you enjoy horror short stories and don't mind a bit of blood and guts being added to proceedings!

4 stars.

Johann
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Friday, 10 August 2018

Book Review: Naomi's Room by Jonathan Aycliffe

On a Christmas Eve shopping trip to London, Naomi becomes separated from her dad, Charles. Days later her murdered and mutilated body is discovered. But is she really dead?

"There was something on the carpet, just outside the old nursery door, Naomi's door. A length of blue ribbon. I didn't touch it, of course. It might still have been warm."

It had been a while since I had read a REALLY good horror book - and this one delivers. Ages and ages ago this was recommended to me by someone on bookstagram, they said it was the scariest book they'd ever read - so, of course, this piqued my interest. I looked it up on amazon and saw that the author was from Belfast, and this was the sign I needed to order it ASAP (Belfast is quite local to me). My overriding thought finishing this book was - WHY isn't Jonathan Aycliffe better known?!

The first half of Naomi's Room was downright chilling. Shivers running down your spine. Sleeping with the lights on. Regretting the fact that you have an attic right above your bedroom and considering moving house... One night before bed I had to look at photos of Barney - the cutest doggo ever - before going to sleep to rid my brain of these terrible unnerving thoughts. Another night I found myself looking at funny memes and tweets on Buzzfeed to calm myself down! As someone who reads and watches a lot of horror, that should tell you all you need to know about this one.

There are certain tropes and traits that tick my horror boxes: whispers in a dark room, footsteps upstairs, a figure at the side of your bed, terrifying imagery, an increasing sense of dread, an intriguing backstory... and this one ticks all of them! As I said before, the first half is particularly creepy and unsettling, but then it really ramps things up and the second half is just downright fucking disturbing. And I really enjoyed that aspect - but perhaps it is not for everyone.

Aycliffe's writing was simple but effective, it would be really easy to just binge this book in a sitting or two. At the start in particular he would drop little hints or tidbits that forced you to keep reading and find out what the hell happened here! My only minor nitpick is the role of the photographer who seeks to help Naomi's parents work out what is going on in this house. I'm sorry, but... WHY. Why would you do this? What was happening was fucking terrifying - he owes nothing to these people. I would be outta there. Perhaps a little unbelievable for me, personally!!

The less I say about this one, the better, just pick up a copy and prepare yourself for some sleepless nights!

4 stars.

Johann
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Monday, 6 August 2018

Book Review: We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone by Ronald Malfi

20 short stories exploring the dark underside of religion, marriage, love, fear, regret, and hunger in a world that spins just slightly askew on its axis.

"I made a mistake."

Holy cow. First of all - Ronald Malfi can WRITE. Make no mistake about that. The stories themselves may have ranged in quality throughout this collection, but the standard of writing remained HIGH. He's definitely an author I will be reading more of - potentially starting with his novel December Park, which I ordered within reading about 50 pages of this collection.

Malfi grabs your attention from the get-go with an absolute scorcher of a story in The Dinner Party. One you won't forget in a hurry, The Dinner Party is one of the craziest and most shocking stories I've ever read. Malfi is not afraid to go DARK, and that's something I look for in my favourite horror books. As Clive Barker says, "Good horror fiction deals with taboos. It must always go to the limits of what is acceptable."

After this crazy opener, the next number of stories continue to be quite strong , it's just towards the end of the collection that I feel they become a bit weaker. The majority were still enjoyable in some regard, but there are a few forgettable ones that just didn't do much for me. I had been keeping a note of the rating for each individual story, and there were a LOT of 4 and 5 star stories, which lends to how good Malfi can really be when he's at the top of his game.

Particular highlights for me were as follows:
  • Learned Children - this one was quite unsettling!! There's a scarecrow...what more can I say. We all know scarecrows are fucking terrifying!
  • Knocking - creepy occurrences in a slightly unusual house
  • Under the Tutelage of Mr Trueheart - a young kind teams up with an old man who thinks people are being replaced
  • Painstation - this one was FUCKED. UP. And awesome. Right up my street
  • The Housewarming - this one reminded me of the movie MOTHER! Made me feel so anxious and claustrophobic

This collection also reminded me a lot of Barker's Books of Blood in terms of the diverse rage of stories we got in here. It's mostly horror, but there's no real theme or connection between each story. We even get a little bit of romance thrown in at the end! It's really a mishmash of everything and I love that - each story is so uniquely different from the next.

Recommended if you enjoy horror short stories and collections like King's Night Shift and Barker's Books of Blood!

My average worked out at about 3.75 out of 5 for the stories in here!

Johann
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Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Book Review: Under the Dome by Stephen King


An impenetrable and transparent barrier inexplicably falls down over the small town of Chester’s Mill, cutting it off from the rest of the world as its inhabitants are left to fight for survival.

“When the dawn was still long hours away, bad thoughts took on flesh and began to walk. In the middle of the night thoughts became zombies.” 

Under the Dome was always one of those King books that I dreaded. Reviews were not always so favourable on Instagram with a lot of people claiming it had one of King’s worst endings… so I really was expecting the worst. However, I was very pleasantly surprised. Now admittedly that may be due to having the ending semi-spoilered for me prior to reading, but even if that wasn’t the case, I’m pretty sure I would still have liked it.
 
I’m a huge fan of when King takes a small town and really fleshes it out – I love when he expands upon the different families and relationships, and even the doggos. Under the Dome has a massive cast, which is always a problem for me initially trying to keep track of everyone, I felt like I was constantly flicking back to the character list at the beginning of the book. But as I progressed further into the story I found myself checking less and less often. We have our “good guys” who we are cheering on – Barbie, Julia, Linda and Rusty Everett etc – and then we have quite possibility THE most fucking terrible villain that King has ever created in Big Jim Rennie. I hated Big Jim with the passion of a thousand suns, and I absolutely loathed his weak-minded little minions too.
 
Speaking of Jim and his cronies, this book has a few triggers like rape and abuse, so people might want to take note of this. There’s quite a lot of violence as well. This was one of my minor issues with the book – there’s just so much of it that it becomes exhausting. I accept that King wanted us to really hate these guys, but I was calling for their blood about 100 pages in… I didn’t need to keep having this hammered home. A particular highlight for me in terms of the characters was the story of Ollie Dinsmore – I was heavily emotionally involved in his story, there were even tears towards the end!
 
I found Under the Dome to be a really fascinating exploration of what happens when a small community is just cut off from the rest of society and put under a microscope. What happens when the usual law and rules no longer seem to apply? Also when you add in a egocentric psychopath like Big Jim Rennie who already holds a little bit of power. It’s basically a huge human experiment!! And I was here for it! Under the Dome wouldn’t really be categorised as horror, but I found the concept itself horrifying, especially when King describes the smells and gases accumulating under the dome, as well as the slow decline of resources – that just makes me feel SO claustrophobic. Imagine being trapped in such a small space with Jim and his cronies where everything can be twisted to suit their agenda – no thank you!!
 
The entire point of this book is not what caused the dome, but what was happening underneath it. The dome is merely being used as a device to cut off Chester’s Mill from the rest of the world.  As for the ending itself *no spoilers here*, I really don’t understand what else could have caused the dome? There were tonnes of hints and foreshadowing indicating this outcome, so I guess I don’t get why people were disappointed. But that’s just me! I liked the ending, and I really couldn’t care less if that’s an unpopular opinion. 
 
Overall, I really enjoyed Under the Dome. It’s not one of my favourites, but it’s a pretty damn good read. Another prime example of King’s ability to create characters that you will love AND HATE.
 
4 stars.

Johann
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