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Thursday, 20 December 2018

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling

As Harry Potter prepares for his battle against Lord Voldemort with the guidance of his headmaster and mentor, Albus Dumbledore, the backstory of the Dark Lord is revealed.


“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.”

This book is a goddamn heartbreaker! I’ve become a big fan of listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks during my daily workout (Stephen Fry’s narration is FAULT-LESS) and there I was... bawling my eyes out during those final few chapters while getting on with my lunges and burpees... quite the sight, I’m sure!!

The first three novels just feel like a different story. It’s all so light-hearted and enjoyable, then we hit Goblet of Fire and from then on Rowling is just tightening her grip on our hearts and bringing the FEELS. This one in particular crushes me. I remember on my first read I was just so freakin’ SHOOK by the events towards the end. I’d love to say it’s easier when you know what’s coming, but it isn’t!!

I’ve seen complaints that nothing really happens in this book, but that’s almost what I love about it. It’s the build-up to the big finale, we’re learning about Voldemort’s backstory, we’re introduced to horcruxes... the fun is in the learning and the story progression!

And I simply adore that moment when Ron *sorry, WonWon* tells Hermione he loves her (yes it’s in a friendly manner but it just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside) I honestly don’t even know if I fully ship Ron and Hermione, it’s conflicting for me - I think she could do better - but I still love this moment. And also when Ginny and Hermione have a little spat and both were quite sassy with each other.. I love it! However, I do not love how inferior Ginny is in the movies compared to Ginny in the books. RUDE.

I feel like my Harry Potter reviews are just word vomit! “I LOVED THIS. I hated that. This was so good.” and so forth... but I feel like Harry Potter just makes my brain go into overdrive and my excitement takes over. Apologies.

Love Half-Blood Prince. It definitely ranks very high for me in the series! 5 stars!

Johann
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Monday, 17 December 2018

Book Review: December Park by Ronald Malfi

In the fall of 1993, in the quiet suburb of Harting Farms, children begin vanishing and one is found dead. Vowing to stop the Piper’s reign of terror, five boys take up the search.


“No retreat, baby, no surrender”

There’s just something very special about coming-of-age tales, isn’t there? I think it’s because they invoke such overwhelming nostalgia and it’s a trope that most people can relate to. December Park fits nicely into the same category as Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night, Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life, Stephen King’s IT and even his novella The Body as well.

I wouldn’t classify this one as a straight-up horror novel, it’s intention isn’t to scare or unsettle - it’s more about the relationships our main protagonist, Angelo, has formed with his father, grandfather, brother and the kids in his friendship circle. Malfi has included some really beautiful and touching scenes here, particularly between Angelo and his father. And I’m a goddamn sucker for those child-parent moments!

It’s a slow burn as the kids ride around on their bikes and try to carry out their own investigation into the serial killer in their small town - the one who has become known as The Piper. It’s not action-packed until the last quarter or so, when you simply can’t put the book down as everything comes to a head. And Malfi does actually throw in a few chilling moments in the final part as well!

I cannot let this review pass without commenting on how fucking cool Angelo is and how much we need to be friends. He is CONSTANTLY listening to Bruce Springsteen and he loves reading horror and watching slashers, and I am trying not to be offended by sharing so much in common with a 15 year old boy... The Springsteen references just had me geeking out on another level!

I shed a few tears towards the end as well... This book really had it all for me. I can’t recommend it enough! One of my fave books of the year! 5 stars.

Johann
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Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Book Review: A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons

Following his divorce and suicide attempt, Dale Stewart moves back to Elm Haven, deciding to live in the house his childhood friend lived in, to work on a new novel.


“All good things beyond sleep come precisely because we defy gravity while we live.”

How, oh how, was this book going to live up to Summer of Night? Spoiler alert - it doesn’t. But that’s okay, because it’s still a very enjoyable and chilling tale!

I would NOT read this one before Summer of Night, it’s spoiler city in there! It’s not a direct sequel, but more of a chance to revisit Elm Haven and some of the characters we know and love. The story focuses on Dale, but we sometimes have narration from another member of the bike gang and these were often my favourite parts of the book - they were so beautifully written, as I have come to expect from Simmons.

It’s quite sexual at times, which was fine until I was reading it on a plane and I was basically trying to cover the pages from the stranger beside me (ahaha, my phone just autocorrected that to a title since I talk about the Ann Rule book so much). Some of his descriptions of nipples and... other parts... had me rolling my eyes, but it wasn’t too bothersome!

There’s also a lot of references to different authors and works which I LOVED - little shoutouts to King, Nabokov, Arthur Miller etc. And some parts were really quite unsettling and claustrophobic. There’s just something about creepy occurrences in a house - because I too live in a house! This could happen TO ME (I hope it doesn’t).

A Winter Haunting is a lot more direct and to the point than SoN (and Carrion Comfort for that matter), as this one is just over 300 pages long, compared to the larger, and more detailed, novels. My eyes did glaze over during a car chase scene though... good god, how many pages can you dedicate to something like this?! Wrap it up! And one of the characters, Clare, was quite pretentious and unlikeable - but otherwise I have nothing else negative to say about this one!

A really intriguing read with lots of interesting mythology that kept me guessing until the very end! 4 stars.

Johann
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Book/Play Review: The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Based on historical people and real events, The Crucible is a searing portrait of a community engulfed by hysteria.


“The Devil is precise; the marks of his presence are definite as stone...”

The Crucible provides such an interesting insight into the mass hysteria and paranoia brewing in Salem, Massachusetts in the seventeenth century. Although, perhaps watching a production of this play would be more enthralling than reading it. I was tad bored at times and it took me far longer than it should to get through 150 pages of it!

My major irritation was that a number of the characters had similar names - Proctor, Parris and Putnam, oh my!! And given that these characters would often be interacting with each other, I was constantly doing a double check in my head “oh yep, that’s the reverend... and that’s the rich guy who had a thing with Abigail”... obviously I can’t gripe about this too much as these are REAL character names based on REAL events, but I am complaining because it’s my review and I can! *enter sass emoji*

Speaking of Proctor, I’ve got some issues. I gather that he is being portrayed as the “flawed protagonist” and that we should view him as some kind of martyr? Yet by the end I still didn’t feel that sympathetic towards him. Some of his actions/reactions just didn’t sit well with me, so the ending etc just wasn’t as impactful.

However, Miller perfectly depicts the hysteria, paranoia and fear that brews in Salem in the wake of accusations of witchcraft. It’s pretty mind-blowing that an accusation was as good as evidence, and the only way you could “prove” yourself innocent and escape death was if you confessed?! Insanity! I still find it hard to accept that these witch trials actually happened.

I’m glad I finally read this one, but maybe should have read it before I went to Salem, I might have appreciated the history even more! The Crucible is definitely worth picking up if you have any interest in the witch trials. Giving this one 3.5 stars!

Johann
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Friday, 7 December 2018

Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

If you see it – you die. The world is overcome by a mysterious force that sends the population descending into madness and eventual suicide.

“The sky is falling, the sky is dying, the sky is dead.” 

People of Instagram/goodreads – please put your pitchforks away, because this is not going to be a good review. The concept behind this story is GREAT, it’s very Lovecraftian – and I’m all about my Lovecraft-inspired fiction. If you see these creatures you will descend into madness and possibly go on a killing rampage, finishing up by killing yourself. Great. I love it. I just thought this was poorly executed and poorly written. If this story was handled by another author *cough KING cough* it could have been amazing! Okay, maybe not King… I am slightly biased, but basically any author who can craft an incredible story with stellar writing (Kealan Patrick Burke, perhaps?)

This was the second book in a row I’ve read where the protagonist is a boring and bland woman, who repeats shit over and over. I’ve got the picture, Malorie. Please stop. “I’ve trained them well”… yada yada yada. My patience wore thin! And I can fully comprehend her mindset, the panic setting in etc, but it becomes very boring and tedious to read.

The story flits back and forth between describing events in the past when Malorie goes to find a house full of strangers that are tackling this terror together, and the present where she’s trying to make a journey on a river to… somewhere else – potentially a safe haven. The part of the story set in present day was PAIN-FUL. I just didn’t care, the development was so slow and drawn out. I was mostly enjoying the flashbacks only because I was dying to know what exactly happened to lead to the present situation.

I’m disappointed because although the premise was crazy exciting and the book was pretty addictive at the start, it just ended up falling apart. And that ending?! Has anything been any more anticlimactic? (Apart from the ending to The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay – another huge disappointment for me this year). HATED IT. I would also have liked just a bit more explanation with regards to the creatures themselves. Usually I’m of the mindset where I don’t like to know EVERYTHING about the big bad monster. Sometimes seeing the big bad too much can lessen its effect (see The Nun movie released this year), but in this instance I think it would have benefited from SOME kind of detail. 

Some parts were creepy, but again these could have been improved upon by a much better writer. There were glimmers of potential, fascinating little sparks of imagination, but they were never fully realised. I’m actually looking forward to the movie more because it’ll have the story but not Malerman’s style of writing/prose. Sorry, not sorry.

I know a lot of people do love this, so if you haven’t read this yet, don’t let me put you off it! You might love it – but unfortunately I can only give it 2 stars.

Johann
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Monday, 3 December 2018

Book Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The newly married Mrs de Winter realises she is walking in the shadow of her husband's late wife - the beautiful and perfect Rebecca - in their home at Manderley.

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

This was my first time reading du Maurier and it was certainly worth the wait. I didn't fall head over heels for Rebecca unfortunately, but one thing I cannot fault is du Maurier's writing. It's so beautifully atmospheric and elegant - it's very easy to just get lost in her prose. She is clearly a very skilled storyteller, it all seems quite effortless.

It's a bit of a slow build at first, but I'm a huge fan of a slow build. The characters are introduced, as is Manderley itself, and we learn more about the different backgrounds and relationships of the characters. Du Maurier is setting the scene. Then around the halfway mark or maybe even two-thirds of the way in, there's an abundance of twists and turns and I'm constantly messaging other readers after each big reveal, exclaiming "Oh my god! I can't believe X just happened!" However, if I'm honest, I did actually prefer the first two thirds of the book as opposed to that final fast-paced third, where all the secrets are quickly unravelling. I was surprised by the direction the story took, but ultimately preferred where my head thought the story was going to go? If that makes sense?

I love how du Maurier wrote a book wherein the most memorable and fascinating character is actually dead (that isn't a spoiler). Rebecca herself never has any lines, yet her presence is felt throughout the entirety of the novel. She's actually a lot more interesting than our protagonist and narrator, the new Mrs de Winter. At times her insecurities and doubts became quite tedious to read about. There was quite a lot of "Oh he doesn't love me... he just loves Rebecca... why would he love me?!" over and over and over again. She's such a limp, bland character that I really couldn't even blame him if he didn't love her, to be honest. And her fawning over her husband (no matter what he did or had done) left me feeling frustrated as well. I just didn't believe their relationship at any point.

My other issues with Rebecca are probably more to do with my own expectations. I thought Rebecca would be more of a ghost story? And, in a way, yes, Rebbeca herself lingers in Manderley as a haunting presence... but just not in the way I had hoped.

But that's not to say that I didn't enjoy this, because I really did! Those are just the little things that niggled at me and stopped me from giving this one 5 stars. I'm very excited to read more du Maurier in the future though - hopefully with a more exciting protagonist or narrator...

4 stars.

Johann
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