Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

A secret order gathers at Grimmauld Place to try and fight against the dark forces, whilst Harry must learn how to protect himself from Voldemort’s mind-penetrating assaults.

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

Probably one of my least favourites in the series, and yet I still absolutely LOVE it. I love all the scenes with Dumbledore’s Army, the introduction of thestrals(!!!), Luna Lovegood... the way Neville Longbottom is so frickin’ brave and loyal at the Ministry of Magic. Just ALL of it!!

Order of the Phoenix also gives us the most DESPICABLE villain ever in the form of Dolores Umbridge. There is nothing redeeming about this monster in pink. Her treatment of Hagrid in particular simultaneously makes me want to both cry and punch a wall. Or her face.

This book is really when the series transitions from being a story for children to becoming more young adult (although I do believe HP transcends all ages, but ya get what I mean!). The storyline gets more dark, our hearts are shattered into a million pieces, we have to face the reality of death and loss. It’s just a lot, okay?! We learn that the world is not black and white, it exists in shades of grey. Even your parents are not perfect (see James Potter), and the adults who we hope will always be our infallible protecters will fail at times too (see Dumbledore and Sirius). It’s heartbreaking but Rowling explores these topics and themes in such a real and resonating way.

This one is just a tad too long, I feel - particularly when a good portion of it is just Harry shouting. I can wholeheartedly understand his outbursts - he isn’t being told anything, he’s kept in the dark, his hormones are running wild, but it does grate on my nerves after a while. Otherwise - I loved this one! But just a little less than the others. Like a SMIDGEN less! 4.5 stars.


Saturday, 17 November 2018

Book Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

A travelling carnival arrives in a small midwestern town one day in October, resulting in a nightmarish experience for two 13 year old boys.

"Beware the autumn people."

Do you like coming of age tales? Do you like beautifully written prose? Do you like your stories to invoke stunning autumnal imagery whilst whisking you away to the carnival? Well then, step right up, because Something Wicked This Way Comes...

Ray Bradbury has been a new favourite for me this year. I read The Halloween Tree last year and although I liked it, I wasn’t completely enamoured. Then I read The October Country last month and it blew me away... I decided I needed more Bradbury STAT so picked up this one, and all of a sudden I’ve got a Bradbury Pinterest board and I’m sitting fawning over Bradbury quotes (this is a clear marker for when I’m obsessed with something!)

This book has it all! A carousel that depending on which direction it spins can either age the rider or turn the years back. A terrifying Dust Witch that has her eyes sewn shut yet can feel emotions with her hands. And she rides in a hot air balloon! Then there’s Mr Dark, the big bad villain who is also known as The Illustrated Man (linked to Bradbury’s collection of the same name, I wonder?)

The two young protagonists, Jim Nightshade (that name *swoons*) and Will Halloway are just perfectly drawn, the two of them running around and getting up to mischief, as young kids are ought to do. Then we have Charles Halloway (Will’s father) who I could listen to forever. His monologues about life and aging are an absolute pleasure to read. Plus he spends an awful amount of time in the library surrounded by books, and I know most of us can get behind that setting!! There's a little excerpt where Mr. Halloway talks about the "autumn people" and it simply took my breath away - it was basically Bradbury's way of beautifully describing those who are evil (see below):

"Beware the autumn people… For some, autumn comes early, stays late through life…For these beings, fall is the ever normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir in their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eyes? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles- breaks. Such are the autumn people. Beware of them."

Bradbury tackles a number of different themes in this piece of literary magic: growing old, father and son relationships, but most important of all - how laughter and love and being good can help drive out any darkness you may come across.

Not everyone will enjoy Bradbury's poetic prose in this one, and I can fully understand that. But it really worked for me as I was carried away in an autumnal breeze off to the carnival *sighs* This has been one of my top books of the year. Bradbury, you have stolen my heart. 5 stars.


Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Book Review: The Moor by Sam Haysom

A group of teenagers are out on a walking trip with a group leader, but pretty quickly there is tension within the group and some of them start to disappear...

“A gust of wind blew through the campsite and caused the slowly dying fire to gutter, making their shadows dance in the orange light.”
I’ve never been much of a camper... I was forced to join the scouts when I was younger and I knew pretty quickly that this outdoors shit was not for me. The Moor has reinforced this aversion to camping - it’s bad enough sleeping on a cold, hard floor, and heating up a can of beans over a fire that took far too long to light... but when your camping mates start disappearing, you got a REAL problem! No matter how annoying your camping mates may be (looking at you, Gary)

This was an enjoyable, well-written creature-feature. The thirteen year old boys were very believable in their interactions, Haysom really nailed his characterisation. The setting of the moors itself was very chilling too. And I LOVED the inclusion of newspaper clippings to tell parts of the story - I’m always a fan of this when it’s done well!

The direction that the story took was a little different than what I expected - initially I thought that was pretty cool, cos I like it when I read a book and I’m surprised, but in hindsight I might have preferred if it went down the route I was expecting from the start? It was still a really great twist - this was just perhaps more of a personal preference.

It really did remind me of The Ritual and The Blair Witch at times, but The Moor really does hold its own with a distinct and unique story. I would certainly be interested in reading future books from the author!

Worth picking up if you like a little bit of gore and books set in the great outdoors. 3 stars.


Book Review: Dead Leaves by Kealan Patrick Burke

A collection of nine short stories inspired by the witching season!

“When they come out of the corn, they’ll come close enough for him to see their faces.”

Anytime I start reading anything by Burke I am quickly reminded how frickin’ amazing his writing is. Sure, he’s a great storyteller too, but there’s something special about his writing - it’s so incredibly atmospheric and he has a way of describing things that really makes you feel like you’re right there. He really excels in this collection with regards to his depiction of autumn and Halloween. So many quotes left me heart-eyed!

I’d say I really enjoyed the majority of the stories in this collection. My favourites were Someone to Carve the Pumpkins, The Toll and The One Night of the Year!

The Toll was particularly great - any story that centres around being buried alive makes me feel so claustrophobic. Although, the standout story for me was definitely The One Night of the Year. This was CHILLING and so unsettling. It made me think of The Children of the Corn and also 1922 by King in terms of both the creep factor and the setting, but it was also quite melancholic too! Absolutely loved this story!

Dead Leaves also has a fantastic introduction by Burke where he discusses why we all love Halloween so much! There’s also recommendations at the back for other horror movies and books to check out as well. It was fun to go through and check off the ones I’ve already watched or read - and now I know what to seek out next!!

Overall, a really fun collection that demands to be read at the best time of year! 3.5 stars!


Friday, 9 November 2018

Book Review: Elevation by Stephen King

Scott Carey is steadily losing weight, but he doesn’t look any different. To make things even weirder, he weighs the same in and out of clothes, no matter how heavy they are…

“Everything leads to this, he thought. To this elevation.”

When I’m reading a book, and because my memory is terrible, I will usually make some observations and reminders in the Notes section of my iPhone which are very helpful when I go to write my review. Given the length of this novella and the fact that I read Elevation in two sittings, there really wasn’t a lot of opportunities to make notes. In fact, I only had one note written down for Elevation: “Stop obsessing over legs” – I mean, come on, King!! If he’s not commenting on a woman’s breasts, it’s the legs. And 95% of the time, it’s really not relevant or necessary. There were two lesbians in this story and I lost count of how many times there were references to their legs and/or the running shorts they were wearing. I cannot fathom how Tabby hasn’t pulled King up on this. That woman usually takes no shit. But that is an annoyance I have learned to semi-accept when it comes to reading King – I just needed to get that mini-rant out of the way. 

I read Elevation right away without having read any prior reviews, so all thoughts and reactions were truly my own – I didn’t go into it expecting to hate/love it, whatever. And I believe that’s the best way to read any new King. In my opinion, Elevation is not King’s best, by any stretch of the imagination. However, I did quite enjoy it. I really liked it for what it was – an uplifting story with the kind of message we need when the world is falling to shit around us. I didn’t realise how attached to the characters I had become until the very end when I was tearing up and feeling quite emotional. No other author can make me feel as attached or emotionally invested in a character’s story than King.

It’s not horror and I don’t know why it’s been categorised as horror by Goodreads, but I never expected it to be going by the synopsis or the beautiful, bright cover. It’s more magical realism – and I liked the direction that King took with it. I actually wish Elevation had been developed into a full-size novel, not a chunky book, but something similar to one of his shorter novels. I feel like he could have expanded upon so many things, developed the characters a bit more, spent more time following Scott’s unusual problem. It was definitely good to be back in Castle Rock, even though it didn’t really feel like a typical Castle Rock story. And of course, the Easter eggs were as fun as always!

I have seen complaints about paying full price for such a short story, and I can fully appreciate that annoyance – although I would say that is more down to the publishers than King himself. Elevation would have worked much better if released as part of a collection, similar to Gwendy’s Button Box last year. New releases are great when they’re so regular, but I’d honestly rather wait and just buy a collection!

This is slightly SPOILERY so beware of you haven’t read Elevation yet, but I had seen a few reviews where people had complained about the inference that “Oh these two poor lesbians needed help from a straight white male” and I honestly did not view it in that way AT ALL. Do you really think King has that perspective? Given that his own daughter is a lesbian? In this day and age, nothing is taken at face value anymore, it has to be twisted or interpreted in some way to be negative. Instead of viewing it like that, how about just viewing it as an act of kindness? Of community? Of giving someone a helping hand when they’re struggling? It really baffles me. Same when it comes to people giving off about King being so political – I’m sorry, is this a new thing? King has a history of being political in his writing. I will admit, however, that the politics are a bit heavy-handed in this story and it could have been toned down a bit.

There’s a lot of dividing opinions on Elevation, but overall, I had a good time! 3.5 stars.


Thursday, 8 November 2018

Book Review: What October Brings edited by Douglas Draa

A collection of Lovecraftian tales in celebration of the spookiest time of the year.

“”Cthulhu fhtagn!”, I shouted, as I hefted the bloodied axe onto one shoulder and disappeared into the darkness.”

Lovecraft fans! Look no further! (Because I know this is exactly what you were trawling through the internet looking for) I have found the perfect Lovecraftian collection for Halloween time.

I would probably label myself a Lovecraft fangirl. I did drag my boyfriend through a cemetery on an incredibly hot day to find his grave in Rhode Island on our recent vacay. So this collection was a whole lot of fun! There are references to and inspiration derived from all the usual Lovecraftian sources: Cthulhu, Innsmouth, the Necronomicon, Yuggoth, Azathoth, the sleeping gods… etc.

I don’t think you need to have read Lovecraft in order to enjoy this collection, but I would hazard a guess that it does make it more enjoyable? My absolute favourite story was That Small, Furry, Sharp-Toothed Thing, which was so awesome. The main character descends into a spiral of paranoia and madness upon seeing these Halloween costumes inspired by a Lovecraft tale everywhere. The ending was brutal and incredibly satisfying. 5 stars for that one.

A minor complaint is that perhaps it does feel repetitive at times? A lot of the stories share the same ideas and settings, but as I stretched it out over a couple of weeks it wasn’t too off-putting! All of the stories were well-written, even those I didn’t enjoy as much. I wouldn’t say any of them are complete stinkers.

Worth adding to next year’s October TBR if it tickles your fancy! I quite enjoyed it. Average story rating of 3.76, so I’ve rounded up to 4 stars because I’m generous ;)


Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein is the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who attempts to reanimate a dead body. 

“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.”

Hollywood… you have lied to me all these years *shakes fist* Frankenstein is the complete opposite of what I expected! First of all, Frankenstein himself is a major tool. Second of all, the monster is not some dim-witted fool without a brain. He is actually more well-spoken than yours truly.

My overwhelming reaction to Frankenstein is how the hell did Mary Shelley write this at just 18 years old?! The writing is so beautifully atmospheric, and it’s such a complex multi-layered novel. What I really find fascinating is that this isn’t set in any of the usual gothic settings, like a crumbling castle for example, a lot of it takes place in the great outdoors, which really brings something different to the narrative. Frankenstein is also considered to be the first science fiction novel combined with supernatural terror, which is mighty impressive when coming from an 18 year old girl raised in that time. 

My perception of Frankenstein was that it was about a scientist who uses electricity to bring life to this corpse made up of a conglomeration of body parts, which then goes on to mindlessly kill or hurt people. Bearing in mind, I’ve never actually seen a Frankenstein adaptation. Oh, and even though I KNOW that Frankenstein is not the monster, that link is still in my head for those first few seconds when I initially think of Frankenstein. So to read Frankenstein and learn that all my assumptions about this book were pretty much wrong was a real eye-opening experience! It’s not just a story about a monster, it’s so much more than that. It really makes you reflect on the ethical and moral repercussions of experiments like this. Is there such a thing as going too far in the quest for knowledge? As a scientist I can completely understand the obsession that can come from blue-sky research. 

There is also of course the famous story behind the creation of Frankenstein – Lord Byron and a group of guests spent an evening together on Lake Geneva in 1816 reading ghost stories, which then led to the challenge for each person to write their own ghost story in a writing competition.  The edition that I read gives even more insight into Shelley’s personal life at the time, and I was really surprised at all the heartache and strife she had gone through – and would go through after completing Frankenstein as well. I now have a strong desire to read more about the story behind the book, given how inspiring Shelley’s backstory is.

I never had Frankenstein down as one of those books that would get me all emotional and teared-up! But my heart was breaking during the monster’s recollection of events. Why couldn’t that family just take him in and accept him?! *cries* Although I must admit if a 7 foot tall yellow creature appeared at my door, I’m not so sure I’d welcome him in with open arms either… but I’d like to think I would?! Wishful thinking, perhaps! The loneliness this character goes through… the abandonment. Truly one of the most heartbreaking stories in fiction. And all because of that damned Dr Frankenstein! What an absolute toolbag. You can’t give life to something and then just wipe your hands clean – well, you can, but you SHOULDN’T. I’m team monster all the way, even during those cruel moments when he really tested my compassion for him… but still, I prevailed team monster.

At the beginning I was a fan of Victor, I admired his determination and dedication, the man is clearly a genius. However, once the monster is created he begins to lose his humanity and becomes so whiney, self-obsessed and annoying. Soz, mate, but you brought it all upon yourself. If you had have taken some responsibility for your actions, things wouldn’t have gone so tits-up.

I think I’ve gone on long enough in this review… I didn’t think I would have so much to say about Frankenstein, but I guess this just shows how much I really loved this one! Definitely earned a spot in my top classics list. 4.5 stars.


Saturday, 3 November 2018

Book Review: Kill Creek by Scott Thomas

Four horror authors agree to spend the night in a haunted house as part of a publicity stunt.

"They were human minds set into paper, and Sebastian loved every single one of them, even the ones he considered disposable."

Let me get one thing straight - if I needed a horror book to scary in order for me to enjoy it, I would not be a horror fan. I can count on one - maybe two hands - the number of books that have actually scared me (Pet Sematary, Summer of Night, The Exorcist, Naomi's Room, to name a few), so it's actually a rare occurrence that a book will actually unsettle me. However, if I'm going into a book expecting to be scared or wanting to be - as a lot of previous reviews had hyped up - then yeah, I will be disappointed if it doesn't deliver. But as we've found time and time again, what one person finds scary, another will not. And that's fine, that's all part of reading, we all have different personal experiences that we bring to the table each time we venture into a new book. So in this instance, not being scared WAS a letdown for me, but this is not the case for all horror books I read.

Kill Creek is still a pretty enjoyable read, it's well-written and almost reads like a movie (which I've seen a few criticise), but I don't find that off-putting. If anything, it being written in that way makes it easy to binge and breeze through about 50-100 pages without even realising it. One of my favourite aspects of this book was the interactions and conversations between the four horror authors. It was so interesting that all four wrote such different types of horror and their discussions around horror and the publishing world were probably the highlights of the book for me!

I did have an issue with how the female author, TC Moore, was written. She had a chip on her shoulder from the get-go and came across as this really cold, distant woman who had to be this way in order to thrive in this male-dominated field. It just felt very stereotypical to me and I didn't appreciate it. She was overly sexualised and actually listed "fucking" as one of her essential activities. Oh, and she enjoys writing naked. Of course. I'm not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, I am a Barker fan for heaven's sake, where sex literally oozes from the pages! But in this instance, it didn't work for me, I wanted to like her because she did have some badass qualities but overall it felt like a cliche "female-written-by-a-man" character.

As I was reading and enjoying certain parts, I just kept getting that niggling feeling that something was missing? I needed something more. A bit more bite, perhaps. I'm looking forward to the adaptation for this, because I get the impression that it might be more chilling to see the events described on the screen as opposed to reading about them. 3 stars.


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