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Friday, 26 October 2018

Book Review: The October Country by Ray Bradbury

A collection of 19 macabre tales from who many consider to be the finest writer of fantastic fiction.



"...that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain..."

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the majority of short story collections are hit and miss. Well... this one is all killer and no filler, baby!! (Correction: perhaps a teeny tiny bit of filler as there was ONE story I just didn't vibe with - namely The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse) - but hey, as that Meatloaf song says - one out of nineteen ain't bad! Or...something like that ;)

This was a really fun collection to read during my road trip in New England - it was quite easy to fit in a story or two each evening. I did try and read some aloud to my boyfriend, but he did not remain awake until the end for ANY of them. However, I'm going to blame that on my soothing voice and not the stories themselves. 

My absolute FAVOURITE story was The Emissary. This was a sweet story about a sick young boy and his dog... that turns a little dark. I love it when stories turn dark unexpectedly. If you combine emotion with my horror, then I'm gonna be on board about 93% of the time.

There's just so many memorable tales that I won't forget in a hurry! The Small Assassin, which is about a mother who is convinced that her newborn baby is out to kill her. The Scythe, a chilling tale about a man who comes into the possession of a powerful wheat field and an even more powerful scythe. The Lake (which was my other favourite story) is about a man revisiting his childhood home and recalling a friend who drowned in a lake during their childhood.

Bradbury's writing is beautifully poetic and his stories incredibly inventive. I'm reading these stories quite a few years after they were written and they are just as impactful and unique. Bradbury is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors.

Can't rave about this one enough! One of the best short story collections I've ever read - it's up there alongside King's Night Shift and Clive Barker's Books of Blood. All the stars!! Or 5... if we're using the standard rating system.

Johann
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Book Review: The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

Eric and Andrew are staying in a remote cabin on a New Hampshire lake with their seven-year-old child, Wen, who is catching grasshoppers in the garden when a large man appears. He is friendly at first and is starting to win Wen over when he abruptly says, "None of what is going to happen is your fault." Three more strangers then appear in the driveway holding deadly weapons...


"Too many people have smiles that don't mean what a smile is supposed to mean."

This has probably been my most disappointing read of the year - my rage is fuelled further by the fact that I wasted a precious October read on it! Writing a review like this is more difficult when the author is quite active on bookstagram etc, especially when they are a pretty cool guy, as Tremblay is, but I do believe it's of the utmost importance to always be honest in your reviews. This book was majorly hyped on bookstagram but unfortunately it really fell flat for me.

The first 50 pages or so were incredibly promising - I was HOOKED and needed to know what happened next. But then nothing really did... for the next 250 pages. I mean, sure, perhaps events did occur but I felt like the story itself didn't really move forward. It was basically 250 pages of a group of characters arguing with each other and no one really taking a minute to calm down and ask the intruders to explain everything from the very beginning to the present moment. OR if they did ask (I honestly can't remember, it's all a blur), the intruders couldn't answer such questions "yet". Can you imagine how infuriating that was. And then the ending itself... *explodes* I really hated it. It just emphasised that this book felt like a waste of time to me.

On the plus side, it was refreshing that the main family unit was made up of two dads and their adopted child, Wen. Maybe it's just the books I've been reading recently, but I don't often come across gay couples with children in my fiction and I really did appreciate that! Representation is important. It's just a shame I didn't give a flying toot about the actual characters... There was a huge scene that I know was meant to be really emotional and I didn't even bat an eyelid. And I'm a crier!! Oh, and some of the violence scents were pretty brutal... which was good. But that's all I got!

The idea and concept is really quite interesting, but I feel like it just fell apart after the first 50 pages. Maybe this would have worked better as a novella or short story. Who knows. Just not for me, unfortunately! 2 stars.

Johann
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Book Review: Seed by Ania Ahlborn

Jack Winter fled his rural home when he was just a boy, thinking he was leaving his nightmare behind forever. Now, years later, him and his family are in a car crash and he sees glowing eyes that he recognises... the evil thing that had followed him as a child has found him again.

"Jack knew those eyes, and it terrified him that they had found him again."

This is my second Ahlborn book after The Devil Crept In and I'm already hailing her as my Queen of Horror! It takes a lot to leave me feeling unsettled before bed, and Ahlborn definitely delivers with this one. I was going to sleep in strange hotel rooms imagining shadows in corners... thanks for the restless nights!!

One of my favourite things about Ahlborn's books is her writing, she has a way with words, and writes dialogue between characters in the most believable way. She is also a fan of pop culture references (much like Joe Hill), which I dig very much - there were a few King references in here that I particularly appreciated.

Ahlborn isn't afraid to go to DARK places in her storytelling, and as an avid horror reader, I really appreciate that. Too often when I read horror I can predict the upcoming ending, or you can tell that a horror author is holding something back... afraid to write something TOO polarising? Ahlborn doesn't do that, she doesn't chicken out of pulling some punches. There's nothing I enjoy more than reading a book and thinking to myself "holy shit...they won't go THAT dark" and then they do! I think this is why Pet Sematary is still my favourite King book. I was pretty new to reading horror and I was SHOOK that King went down such a dark path. Seed is also delightfully dark!

My only minor annoyance with Seed is some of the decisions that Jack made as a husband and as a father... but hey, if characters didn't make dumb decisions every now and again, we wouldn't have half as many great books as we do!

Already looking forward to my next Ahlborn - she has yet to disappoint. 4 stars.

Johann
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Sunday, 21 October 2018

Book Review: Firestarter by Stephen King

Andy and Vicky McGee take part in a top-secret government experiment, gaining psychic powers. Then they have a daughter - Charlie. Charlie demonstrates even more power than her parents and they must keep her abilities secret, as the government wants Charlie back.


"You're a firestarter, honey... just one big Zippo lighter."

Firestarter was one of the few "classic" Kings I had left to read (I had never watched the movie either), and yet I wasn't particularly excited about it, it seemed like a Carrie-knockoff almost! When I pulled it out of my King TBR jar for my October read, I was admittedly slightly disappointed... but this is one of the very few instances where I'm happy to admit that I was DEAD WRONG. Firestarter is fucking awesome!

King is no stranger to writing about abusive child/parent relationships (Jack and Danny Torrance in The Shining, Bev and her father in IT, to name a couple), so it's a nice change when King explores a sweet and loving relationship between the two. The connection and bond between Charlie and her father Andy was really sweet. However, if I'm honest, I found Andy's psychic abilities more interesting than Charlie's, so I really enjoyed those parts where Andy could show what he's capable of (even if it was detrimental to his own health - but again, this just perfectly demonstrates his paternal love for Charlie). 

A lot of King novels can be slow-burners (which I am a fan of) but this one moves at a relentless pace from the very first page. It really demonstrates that whilst King can be a tad wordy at times, he is also capable of writing page-turners with very little filler! I loved how the mental powers of telekinesis and pyrokinesis were used in the story - when you set these against the backdrop of a nasty government trying to protect its secret, Firestarter really packs a punch!

I can't help but wonder if this book would have worked better if it was structured in chronological order, as opposed to jumping back and forth between the past and present day. It might have worked better if it built up to Charlie and Andy being on the run. But that's just a minor nitpick.

Overall, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. This would be a good starting place for people trying to get into King - particularly if you're a fan of Stranger Things. 4.5 stars.

Johann
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Friday, 5 October 2018

Book Review: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

On November 15th, 1959, four members of the Clutter family are murdered in their home in Holcomb, Kansas. No motive could be found and clues were limited. Capote reconstructs the murder and investigation that led to the capture, trial and execution of the killers.

“I thought that Mr Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.”
I’m almost ashamed it took me so long to finally read what many consider to be the first true crime novel. The combination of Capote’s writing ability with a harrowing, senseless mass murder results in an incredibly well-written and terrifying book.

Capote’s writing really cannot be faulted, all of his descriptions of landscapes and different characters etc were exquisite. Often true crime books can lack such writing, one other exception being Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, so it’s always a pleasure to read true crime in such a nice prose.

I had gone into this one knowing absolutely NOTHING about the case. Nada. Which is unusual given how much true crime I read/listen to true crime podcasts. It’s one of those books that really brings home how fragile life can be – things can change in an instant. Home invasion murders are one of my biggest fears and I can only imagine what the Clutter family went through prior to their deaths. And all for 30 to 40 dollars!! It makes me feel sick to my stomach.

One of the things I did not like about In Cold Blood were the “fictional” parts that were added in – the scene at the end apparently didn’t happen, the dialogue between characters that were murdered shortly after said-dialogue took place (and therefore clearly not accurately depicted)... I can fully appreciate the benefits of adding these in for the sake of presenting a more well-rounded story, but as someone who enjoys a lot of true crime it just doesn’t sit right with me, for some reason. When it comes to true crime, I just want the facts or possible scenarios, however, this is entirely a personal preference on my behalf.

Capote often spent a lot of time giving us the backgrounds of different people who were introduced to the narrative and it just felt like unnecessary padding at times. He goes into detail about the crimes of another inmate on death row towards the end and I felt like the book had started to lose some steam around this point.

Once I had finished I read up online about the writing process, and how Capote had gone out to Kansas with Harper Lee (this blew my mind for some reason) to conduct their own research into the murder and, following their arrest, the murderers themselves. I also came across articles detailing how this crime and the novel itself consumed Capote, leading to a downward spiral of drink and drug addiction with Capote never finishing another book. I hadn’t known there was so much beyond the book itself, and it was interesting to read about.

In Cold Blood is a novel that is very worthy of its classic status. A must-read for all true crime fans. 4 stars.

Johann
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Book Review: Walking with Ghosts by Brian James Freeman

A collection of short stories dealing with both real and supernatural terrors.

“It was still Halloween night, after all, and there were real monsters out there, prowling in the dark.”

This was my first time reading any of Freeman’s work and I would definitely pick up more in the future. He seems to be predominantly a short story writer and it’s easy to see why - he has a real flair for telling a story effectively within a limited number of pages. This collection is just over 300 pages long and contains 30 stories, so all the stories are concise and to the point. And wonderfully written.

There’s a lot of diversity and different settings within the short stories, but all seem to be linked by the theme of things that haunt us. Some stories are chilling, some are touching, some have supernatural forces at work, some don’t. A lot of the stories had twists and turns and endings that left me with my jaw hanging open - the first story in particular was excellent!!

My favourite story in the collection was Silent Attic, which is about a girl who’s mother dies in their attic bedroom after a long illness, and it was just so resonating and really hit home with me. Another story was absolutely hilarious (for me anyway!!), it was about a small community who take their Christmas decorations just a tad too seriously...

There’s really just a bit of everything! There were some stories that I didn’t enjoy AS much (which seems to always be the case with short story collections), but they were still impeccably written.

The average score for the short stories were around 3.6, so a rating of 3.5 stars seems about fair. Worth checking out!

Johann
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