Monday, 30 December 2019

Book Review: The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

A group of salvagers are given the job of stripping down an old mansion in four days. However it won’t be as easy as they had hoped...

“They echoed and scratched like a blade on the brittle, cheap wood of the attic’s subflooring - cutting letter after letter in an accusation that wouldn’t die.”
If you’re looking to develop an unhealthy fear of your bathroom, you gotta pick this one up! As a horror fan, I can’t help but LOVE a big gothic house, steeped in history and secrets. I mean, I couldn’t live in one, but I adore books and movies wherein an unsettling house is the main focus.

The Family Plot certainly brought the scares for me! It wasn’t pee your pants scary - very few books are, if any. But I did feel more at ease reading it during the daylight hours. There’s just something about a haunted house! My thought process runs along these lines - “This takes place in a house, you say?! But I live in a house! This could happen to ME” And then I start talking myself down “Ah, but my house is only 30 odd years old, you’re the first ones to live here... it’s fine” and a cool head prevails.... Until you consider what your house may have been built on...

Anyway, enough of my crazy thoughts... I did really like this one! The backstory was great, the unravelling of details and pacing was executed quite well, and there was an awesome poem towards the end that I really loved.

I had some minor issues though. The dialogue felt a little clunky at times, and the familial drama started to grind on me. Their bickering became quite irritating and it made them seem closer to teenagers than adults. Oh, and sometimes the main character would talk to the house and the ghosts? Mega cringe!

Overall, however, I would certainly recommend it. Especially if you’re a fan of southern gothic tales! And who doesn’t love a good ghost story?! With a creepy burial plot! And a creepy soldier!

Worth a read if haunted houses are your jam! 3.5 stars.


Sunday, 29 December 2019

Book Review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

In the highly anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood answers some of the questions that have tantalised readers for decades.

“You don’t believe the sky is falling until a chunk of it falls on you.”
I’m not gonna lie... I could read about Gilead until the cows come home. I find this dystopian world absolutely fascinating - and equally terrifying, given our current climate. Combine this with Atwood’s sharp, insightful commentary and her stunning prose, and you have all the necessary ingredients for an amazing book!

However, I do feel like it pales in comparison to The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s perhaps unfair to compare it to a book that has become so revered and well-loved, but I couldn’t help doing that as I was reading along. There are three narratives in The Testaments, and as many of the reviews I read agreed with, one of the narratives is just not as enjoyable as the other two. I can do without an annoyingly whiny teen, thank you very much. Aunt Lydia’s narrative was certainly the highlight of the book for me! I’d have been more than happy if the entire book was from her perspective.

That being said, it did feel a tad predictable at times... and some parts felt spoon-fed. A lot of the ambiguity that worked so well in The Handmaid’s Tale was missing here.

I’ve seen a lot of comments about how this novel was simply unnecessary and I can totally understand that viewpoint. I just really enjoyed being back in Gilead and I can’t deny that I found this to be a real page-turner! I had a good time! However on reflection I did end up deducting half a star from my original rating. 3.5 stars.


Book Review: Full Throttle by Joe Hill

Well, this is the first time that a Joe Hill book has disappointed me. It’s a real shame, because I used to shout from the rooftops that I have basically loved every Hill I’ve read so far - but now there is a black mark on his record...

”A child has only two parents, but if you’re lucky enough to get to be an artist for a living, ultimately you wind up with a few mothers and fathers.”
Okay, let’s dial it back, perhaps I’m being a tad dramatic... it’s not terrible! There are a total of 13 stories in here, and a few are really good. But there is quite a lot of forgettable fluff. I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly, but I sometimes felt like the themes and topics included in this collection just bored me at times. It also bothers me that 4 of the stories that had been previously released, you can’t help but feel a tad short changed when you already have these ones.

In the introduction he talks about his relationship with his father and how if you are an artist you will ultimately be inspired by lots of different people through working with them and reading their work etc - which kind of lays the foundation for this collection. There are two stories he has written with King, both of which I had previously read. And then a number of stories where the inspiration source is clearly from other artists or authors.

Dark Carousel for example - strong Ray Bradbury vibes! The name alone just makes me think of Something Wicked This Way Comes. Unsurprisingly this was one of my favourites in the collection! Another favourite was In The Tall Grass, a really dark and disturbing tale where a pregnant woman and her brother hear a child shouting for help from the side of the road.

Twittering in the Circus of the Dead was another one that stood out, an entire story told through tweets! You are Released, previously included in the short story collection Fright or Flight, had the potential to be good, but fell short for me. The rest... probably quite forgettable.

In summary, it’s worth picking up for In the Tall Grass, if you haven’t read it yet! Otherwise... don’t rush yourself. 3 stars.


Thursday, 26 December 2019

Book Review: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Roy and Celestial are a young African-American couple only recently married when Roy is wrongfully imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.

“Much of life is timing and circumstance, I see that now.”
This was our read of choice in September for the book club in work and we had a really interesting discussion yesterday about it - whilst indulging in some homemade brownies. I feel like book club is making me evaluate and analyse my reads more intensely than if I had just read them on my own. Our discussion actually made me appreciate this book more!

My initial criticism of this one was that I just didn’t really connect to, or like any of the characters - which is fine, this isn’t always necessary - but in hindsight, I feel like this shows how human and real Jones’ characters are. Everyone is flawed, we all have complex and complicated relationships with family members, with partners etc. And marriage just isn’t easy - I guess it just makes this story feel more rooted in real life.

An American Marriage has a strong message without coming across as preachy or smacking you over the head with it! Jones really leaves it up to the reader to sit back and consider the effect that a wrongful imprisonment can have on an individual, particularly when it comes to an African American male. Similar to my experience of reading Americanah earlier in the year, these types of stories really open my eyes to current racial issues and I do find them to be quite educational for me!

That being said, I personally didn’t love this one. I thought it started off really strongly - with the story being told through letters exchanged back and forth between Celestial and Roy
in jail, but when it changed to a normal narrative being told from the perspective of three different people, it lost a bit of its shine.

However, the writing was flawless and I felt like Jones handled the topic and themes wonderfully. A bit of a mixed bag for me, but I will certainly check out more of her work! 3 stars.


Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

In Guy Montag’s world, fireman start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book.

“It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”
Can I preface this review with a PSA - if you have read Fahrenheit 451 and you hated it... please try another Bradbury book! This one was so different to the other Bradburys that I have read and loved, in terms of tone, writing, warmth, themes... Everything! Pick up one of the Green Town books (Something Wicked This Way Comes or Dandelion Wine) or The October Country.

Whilst this may not be a new favourite by Bradbury, I did really appreciate the message behind this story. Anything that highlights the importance of books and reading is going to score a few brownie points! I found Bradbury’s dystopian world incredibly interesting and terrifying, and really loved the part where the creation of this current world was explained.

It was scary how relevant it is to today’s world. The similarities between a book written in 1953 and current day hits a little close to home. We are overwhelmed and overstimulated with tv and the media, but luckily there are still plenty of us who read.

Although Bradbury’s writing remains as quotable and descriptive as ever, there was a certain coldness to this book. I didn’t care much for any of the characters. That was probably my main criticism - I just felt very detached from it all. All the Bradbury that I’ve read so far has made me feel all warm and cosy inside, so Fahrenheit 451 feels a little jarring in comparison.

I wanted to understand why so many people absolutely adore this book and hold it in such high regard as one of their all-time favourites, so I read a few gushing reviews on goodreads... and I honestly just feel a little sad that I couldn’t connect with it in the same way that others have. But that’s reading for you!

Overall, glad I finally read it. Some parts were fantastic, but it felt a little dull at times. 3.5 stars.


Book Review: The Shining by Stephen King

When I first read The Shining a number of years ago I thought it was fantastic and gave it 5 stars, but it just never ranked as a personal favourite. On this reread, however, my socks were well and truly blown off and I had an entirely different experience. This is why I will always be a huge advocate for rereading - it’s quite apparent that wherever your head is at, or whatever life circumstances you find yourself in, can really impact how you view a book. As if that isn’t obvious.

“Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win.”

On my first read, I was impatient. I was just starting to read King, I wanted the SCARY BITS. This time around I was emotionally involved. I felt a deep connection to Danny and I could really tap into Wendy’s fears as a parent. A younger, more naive me would have thought “why don’t you just fucking leave if all this creepy shit is happening?” - well, until the snow storm at least - but now I can appreciate this as a last chance saloon for the Torrances. They needed the money, they really had nothing else to go back to.

The Shining is surely one of King’s scariest, if not THE scariest - a few scenes in Pet Sematary might rival this title. One scene in particular left me feeling claustrophobic and breathless, and I regretted reading it one night before bed when I was home alone. I love that there’s so much history to the Overlook and that the former guests continue to hang around...

Jack’s descent into madness is terrifying. He is a complex character and it is difficult to know whether we are to sympathise with him or not. He’s far from a perfect father, but we are all flawed in our ways - just maybe not to this extreme. I shed a little tear towards the end, because I think in spite of all he has done, he does love his son - he was just the perfect prey for the Overlook to get its claws into.

I thoroughly LOVED this reread, and also the extra prologue and epilogue this edition has. The prologue in particular is something you should seek out if you’re a fan of The Shining - it really added another layer of history. 5 stars.


Saturday, 7 December 2019

Book Review: Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury

If you enjoyed Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, Farewell Summer is a must-read! As Bradbury explains in the afterword, this is an extension of Dandelion Wine, initially cut by his publishers. He then revisited it years later to create what would become his last published novel.

“His library was a fine dark place bricked with books, so anything could happen there and always did. All you had to do was pull a book from the shelf and open it and suddenly the darkness was not so dark anymore.”

Farewell Summer is a beautiful book where everything comes back to one theme: the passage of time. Whether that is hitting puberty and experiencing the changes that come with that, like discovering girls, or sitting down and asking an elderly person about life and what it all means. This is truly one of my favourite themes, I love it when people with life experience look back and provide little nuggets of wisdom.

As has been the case with all the Bradbury I’ve read so far, the writing is simply incredible. The descriptions of those last days of summer, as we transition into fall... my god, they were breathtaking. This excerpt is from the very first page:

“So along the road those flowers spread that, when touched, give down a shower of autumn rust... The rust was laid out everywhere, strewn under trees and by riverbanks and near the tracks themselves where once a locomotive had gone but went no more. So flowered flakes and railroad track together turned to moulderings upon the rim of autumn.”

If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will! I also buddy read this alongside @0hfortheloveofbooks which was so much fun as we got to fangirl together! Although there is one part towards the end that just felt a tad... unexpected. If you’ve read it, you’ll know!

Overall, a captivating addition to the Green Town series. I just love the others a tad more. 4.5 stars.


Thursday, 5 December 2019

Book Review: Bunny by Mona Awad

Samantha Heather Mackey couldn’t be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. She is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort - a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other “Bunny”. But everything changes when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies’ fabled “Smut Salon”...

“The poets brace themselves for imminent, overeducated poverty.”
Wickedly funny and deliciously dark, Bunny is a messed up fever dream that I did not want to wake up from!!

It’s best to know as little as possible before starting this one. I really had no clue what was coming, and it was a helluva ride! It gets very dark and pretty brutal at times, there are some violent scenes. However, this contrasts nicely with Awad’s often hilarious writing and the saccharine characters in their beautifully patterned dresses and heart-shaped sunglasses.

There’s lots of “what the fuck just happened” moments and at times when I think back over it, I’m still unsure exactly what was going on at points. This would certainly benefit from a reread in the future! However, Bunny lives up to its reputation of a book described as “The Heathers meets The Craft” - I truly can’t come up with a better selling point than that! I’ve also seen it described as “The Secret History meets Jennifer’s Body”, which also seems absolutely perfect!

Set at an Ivy League university in New England, this ticks a number of boxes in terms of location for me. It’s a book that also seemingly pokes fun at prestigious MFA programs and I feel like Awad has a lot of fun with that!

It won’t be a hit for everyone, but I’m a tad obsessed with this book and would recommend giving it a shot if it appeals to you in any way! One of the most unique and enjoyable books I’ve read this year. 4.5 stars.


Book Review: Song of Susannah by Stephen King

The sixth book in King’s Dark Tower series, wherein the ka-tet are split up and sent to different “whens” and “wheres” to achieve their goals.

“It got so I couldn't tell if you were the hero, the antihero, or no hero at all.”
Song of Susannah was one of those instances where a reread proved to be very informative... as what I thought happened in this book did not actually happen in this book... I was getting ahead of myself. And for that reason I understand the complaints that not much really happens in here plot-wise, it does serve as more of a build-up and a bridge to the final book in the series.

There are three separate storylines running simultaneously as the ka-tet is divided, and all feel very fraught and tense in their own ways, but I do miss the interaction between all the characters. Susannah’s strand is probably my least favourite, which is a shame as it should be the most thrilling, but at times it felt bogged down with these hallucinations and the three voices conversing together - it wasn’t always clear what was happening.

Not everyone is a fan of how meta the series gets, but I for one, am a fan of this! Although on this reread I did find some parts a little... cringeworthy? But I understand why King chose to write this into the story, as it makes sense in the grander scheme of his entire body of work, as a lot of it is connected to this series. (If it seems like I’m not making much sense, I am trying to remain spoiler-free for anyone who may come across this review but hasn’t got this far yet) But I know fans’ opinions vary widely on this!

The end of the book is thrilling as everything comes to a head and we are left on an almighty cliffhanger as we proceed into the final book of the series. Song of Susannah is probably my least favourite book in the series, but there is still much to enjoy and appreciate, and I won’t be waiting too long to delve into that final book again!

“As for you, Constant Reader... One more turn of the path, and then we reach the clearing. Come along with me, will ya not?”

4 stars.


Monday, 18 November 2019

Book Review: You Let Me In by Lucy Clarke

Nothing has felt right since Elle rented out her house to a family through Airbnb. Since coming home from her vacation in France, she feels like she is being watched...

“I am no trespasser, I remind myself. You let me in.”
Some of the lessons I learnt whilst reading this book:
- drinking and driving after one or two large glasses of wine is okay apparently (sidebar: IT IS NOT)
- noting all your passwords in one location is a great idea (again: it is NOT)
- it might be a good idea to visit your doctor if your insomnia has gotten to the point where you’re going batshit crazy (it bugged me that she didn’t do this)
- it’s not a good idea to constantly post clues suggesting the location of your home on social media when you’re a famous author (or even if you’re not famous, for that matter!)
- don’t fucking walk home drunk alone on the beach at night
- if you have a glass room at the top of your house (pfft, don’t we all), maybe you should invest in some blinds or curtains

With all that being said, I did finish this 400 page book in less than 48 hours - it’s a page turner, for sure, but it is accompanied with a lot of eye-rolling. There are far too many red herrings and strands of the story that just don’t get any resolution. A lot of it is also very repetitive.

But it wasn’t all terrible. It was a breezy read, and I particularly enjoyed the setting on the coast of Cornwall. It was also shocking at times as I didn’t predict what the outcome was going to be! Some parts were kinda creepy - but that might just be because being alone in the house and hearing weird noises and freaking out about it is something I do on a regular basis, so I relate hardcore.

This book reinforces that most thrillers just aren’t for me. Only one or two of us in the book club actually liked it, so tomorrow’s meeting will probably just be spent ranting about the idiocy of the protagonist whilst indulging in our salted caramel brownies... can’t wait! 2 stars.


Book Review: The Institute by Stephen King

Deep in the woods of Maine, there is a facility where kids, abducted from all across America, are incarcerated.

“Great events turn on small hinges.”
Oh man, starting a new King just feels like coming home after a long day and wrapping yourself in a huge blanket... It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about King’s writing that evokes such feelings, but if I could bottle it up and sell these feelings, I would, because everyone needs to experience it!

We all know that King does kids best. From the Loser’s Club in IT, to the boys in The Body, he always seems to nail it! And the kids in The Institute were no exception - Avery was my personal favourite. Add in superpowers and a mysterious Institute and this has all the makings of a binge-worthy story!

It’s a little slow at the beginning, but this is usually the case with King as he introduces the characters and the setting, before he puts his foot down and increases the pace. The parts within the Institute were my favourite, I loved getting to learn more about what was going on, whilst simultaneously worrying for those poor kids. King executes all these parts so perfectly.

The cons, for me: it just felt a little TOO much like Firestarter in some ways. Don’t get me wrong, The Institute stands firmly as its own unique story, but I kept thinking of Firestarter similarities and it put me off slightly. Also, Tim and Wendy were two typical cookie-cutter good guys, who’s names I will undoubtedly have forgotten in a week or two. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I feel like these types of characters are more memorable in his older novels.

Lastly, wasn’t a massive fan of the ending - it felt somewhat predictable. I’m not one who usually gets frustrated with King’s endings, but this one left me a little more on the dissatisfied side.

That being said, I did really enjoy it overall, but unfortunately I just didn’t LOVE it. I do think it’s one of his stronger works in recent years though.

3.75 stars - I’m introducing a new star rating for the occasion.


Saturday, 9 November 2019

Book Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The multi-generational story of the Buendía family, whose patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía, founded the town of Macondo, a fictitious town in the country of Colombia.

“There is always something left to love.”
I have been hesitant about writing this review as I will never be able to do this book justice - it is simply that incredible. So, please bear with my fangirling and inability to put into words how truly magical, beautiful, breathtaking and heartbreaking One Hundred Years of Solitude is.

The movement of the story over one hundred years is mesmerising. New characters are constantly being introduced as the family expands, which can be overwhelming at times, but if you have a family tree and give the book the undivided attention it deserves, the pay off is worth it. This is not one to be picked up on a whim, you need to be in the mood to peel back the layers of the Buendía family.

And a multitude of layers there are! Crazy things are constantly happening - civil wars, uprisings, hauntings, a little familial incest... This is truly a book to reread and revisit many times, as there are such a vast amount of details and events that it is impossible to remember them all.

The writing itself is unbelievable. If I was one to highlight sections of books that I loved, this entire book would be bright pink (my fave highlighter shade)! This novel reminded me in many ways of East of Eden, another all-time favourite, in the sense that history constantly repeats itself - families are sometimes doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over.

Yet I would not freely recommend it to everyone. You’ll either love it... or want to bang your head off a wall. I can’t predict which camp anyone would fall into, all I can say is give it a chance if it sounds like a book you’d enjoy!

Thanks for the amazing buddy read @cemetery.of.forgotten.books - I am now obsessed. 5 stars.


Book Review: Brother by Ania Ahlborn

The Morrows are a family residing in a secluded farmhouse, far in the Appalachians — far enough that nobody outside of the family can hear the screams...

“A party ain’t a party without a splash of red.”
If you asked me to describe this book in three words, I would choose the following: brutal, disturbing and tense. So basically any Ania Ahlborn book, right?! 

If you think your family is fucked up... meet the Morrows. Families who commit heinous acts together, stay together - is that how it goes?? Ahlborn develops her characters so well that we actually feel sympathy for one of the family members, because you can see right away that he is different - he isn’t straight-up evil like the rest of the clan! And boy, are they evil. What a cast of twisted, depraved individuals! I loved it!

I can’t recall the last time I read a book where the tension was just so palpable... the dread continually builds throughout the entire novel to a dizzying finale that is spattered with blood. Just how I like it!!

Not every horror book can easily elicit a range of different emotions and allow you to form those emotional connections, but this one put me through the wringer. I was angry, frustrated, sad, heartbroken... This one ticks all the damn boxes!

Ahlborn goes to the darkest places imaginable, she has yet to disappoint me and that is why I will continue to hail her as the Queen of Horror! If I didn’t know she was one of the most genuine and lovely people, I would be shit scared of her.

A must for horror fans! 5 stars.


Thursday, 31 October 2019

Book Review: A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill

Noah Turner sees monsters. His father saw them - and built a shrine to them with The Wandering Dark, an immersive horror experience that the whole family operates. The rest of the Turner family has experiences with the monsters too, but Noah chooses to let them in...

“I started collecting my sister Eunice’s suicide notes when I was seven years old.”
Are you a fan of Stranger Things? How about weird fiction? Or Lovecraftian stories? Or literary horror? If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, then you need to pencil the release date for A Cosmology of Monsters into your diaries! (it’s September 17th, FYI)

I don’t always need to care about my characters in order for a horror novel to work - sometimes I just really enjoy a slasher with indiscriminate characters - but when you really care about the outcome, the stakes are raised. The Taylor family were well-developed and incredibly interesting, and I still miss them after having turned the final page. Eunice, in particular, was a standout. I found her story heartbreaking.

I’d put this book in the tame category in terms of horror, it’s not created to terrify you, but there are monsters and murders galore, as well as a menacing dread that builds as you progress through the novel. It also ticks a few Lovecraftian and Stranger Things boxes as we have this inter dimensional city that wants your soul!

Speaking of Lovecraft, all the little nods and references to his work had me fangirling like crazy. Each part has the title of a Lovecraft story! However, you do not need to have read any Lovecraft in order to appreciate this one!

Hamill is one hell of a writer, so beautifully descriptive at times, and I look forward to devouring more of his books!

In summary... GET THIS BOOK! 4.5 stars.


Book Review: American Predator by Maureen Callahan

When we talk about the most prolific and horrifying serial killers, such as Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer etc, we should be adding another name to the list - Israel Keyes.

“If he had been about five seconds slower getting out of his car and going into his apartment, he would have been The One that night.”
Prior to the hype around this book, and seeing that Last Podcast on the Left had covered him across a few episodes, I really had never heard of this guy before, which baffles me! Keyes was a true monster, evil incarnate. Some of the details of his crimes left me feeling sick to my stomach and incredibly uneasy before bedtime.

Well-written true crime books are hard to come by, which is why I choose to mostly get my true crime fix through podcasts, but American Predator is one of the best I’ve read. It’s informative and detailed, without becoming dry and tedious. Callahan tells the story of Israel Keyes by starting at what is technically the end, by kicking it off with his arrest. And this works really well, as the narrative is told in such a manner where you learn the crimes in a similar order to law enforcement.

Something I found quite alarming was the control that Keyes had over the investigation, as well as the stubbornness of prosecutor Kevin Feldis, who forced his position as interrogator when really this should have been left to those who had more experience. But hey, the criminal justice system be fucked up sometimes!

All in all, a fantastic true crime novel. This junkie would recommend adding it to your TBR! 5 stars.


Friday, 18 October 2019

Book Review: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

The fifth book in the Dark Tower series finds Roland and his ka-tet in Calla Bryn Sturgis, where they must help the residents overcome a formidable enemy.

"Now I think that all of us are born with a hole in our hearts, and we go around looking for the person who can fill it. You...Eddie, you fill me up."

Even though this book took me what felt like a million years to finish, I thoroughly enjoyed pretty much every page (well... I’m not the biggest fan of the New York plot in this one, I’d rather have just stayed in the Calla!)

King is well-known for his depiction of small towns and bringing all the residents to life, and this one is no different! Lots of new characters to meet, as well as the reintroduction of an old one. I LOVED catching up with this character, quite a lot of time is spent filling in the gaps of his story and I was not complaining in the slightest!

The Dark Tower is such an epic tale where our ka-tet are mostly travelling around and on the move, so I liked just staying still for a while (apart from going todash) and allowing for more character development. Also a huge fan of the story behind the wolves and the roont children - I find it creepily fascinating!

I fangirl so hard over all the little references to pop culture and connections to other King books etc so I was in my element here! I guess not everyone enjoys that kind of stuff, but this gal does! And if you haven’t read the series before, this one ends in a way where you just NEED to know what happens next. But luckily I have so I’m okay waiting to read Song of Susannah - however, not for too long, because the Tower is beckoning...

An underrated DT novel, in my opinion. 5 stars.


Book Review: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

A desperate and distraught gunman takes a women’s health centre hostage.

“Laws are black and white. The lives of women are a thousand shades of gray.”

This was the first pick for my book club in work and I must say, it was an excellent suggestion! Incredibly thought-provoking and uniquely written, A Spark of Light really leaves an impression.

It doesn’t need saying that abortion is a hot topic now - although it’s pretty much always relevant - so it was fitting to read this at a time when there is a lot of talk surrounding criminalisation of abortion. We all have our own thoughts and views, and so does Jodi Picoult, but at no point did I feel like she was preaching about her own view. Both sides of the argument are eloquently and rationally put forward, with a range of characters who have had different experiences.

The story is told in reverse- so we start close to the end of the hostage situation in the health centre, and Picoult works backwards hour by hour. I wasn’t a huge fan of this. It removed some of the tension and suspense, and it got confusing at times trying to recall how each character ended up. However, in terms of the execution of the big reveals and how storylines fitted together, it worked well! So I can perhaps see her reasoning for deciding to tell the story in this way.

I learnt a number of things I didn’t previously know about the abortion procedure. Having a medical background, I thought I pretty much knew it all, but it turns out that I didn’t! Picoult clearly did her research for this novel - speaking to loads of different professionals and people from both sides of the argument.

This is not necessarily a book about abortion. It’s about the fact that we all have our own opinions and stances on certain topics due to our differing backgrounds and experiences. And Picoult does what she always does and makes you consider both sides.

I found this to be an excellent conversation starter, I could talk about it until the cows come home, but mostly it reminded me why I have always been a fan of Picoult’s bold and thought-provoking stories. 4 stars.


Saturday, 5 October 2019

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

A middle-aged man returns home to attend a funeral, where he finds previously forgotten memories beginning to return...

“Adults follow paths. Children explore.”
I went into this one thinking it would become an all-time favourite - and there is still the potential that it WILL become one - but it fell JUST short of the mark for me on this read. Everything was incredible - the writing, the themes, the imagery, the villain... my only issue was that I was left scratching my head every now and again? I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on at times and had to reread parts to try and follow the narrative.

Now maybe that was just a case of me stop-starting this one during a busy week, or maybe not everything is meant to be clear, but it did affect my enjoyment a little. This is why I feel like I might end up simply adoring it on a subsequent reread, therefore achieving that all-time fave status.

The main character himself is also one that a lot of bookworms will be able to relate to - “I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.” Then you have the fascinatingly intriguing family that live in the farmhouse down the lane. And the villain is TERRIFYING! Especially when you consider the fact our protagonist doesn’t have his parents to turn to :(

One can never fault Gaiman’s writing - books where you want to highlight nearly every sentence because the writing is so bloody beautiful are precious to me! As for the commentary on memory and childhood, I will always savour the exploration of those themes.

All in all, a wonderful book that is worthy of a future reread. 4 stars.


Saturday, 28 September 2019

Book Review: The Case Against Satan by Ray Russell

Susan Garth is a sweet little girl of high school age who suddenly develops an aversion to churches and a newfound fondness for vulgarity (as well as attacking the parish priest). If madness can’t explain her behaviour, the answer must be demonic possession.

“Capture the dragon, the ancient serpent who is Satan, and send him in chains into the Abyss, that he may no longer seduce the nations.”
If you go into this one looking for a terrifying demonic possession story, then you’re gonna have a bad time. Or you’ll just be really disappointed. BUT if you go in with an open mind, you’ll find a really thought-provoking story about one priest’s struggle with his faith.

Set in 1962, The Case Against Satan came before The Exorcist, before Rosemary’s Baby, and you can definitely see how subsequent books have been inspired by this tale. It was probably ahead of its time in terms of looking at demonic possession through a lens of “is this a possession or could it be explained by science or psychology?” It brings up lots of interesting points.

I’ve also found I really enjoy reading books that explore the Catholic church and have priests as main characters, probably due to my own upbringing and experiences, but I find them quite relatable. So this one ticked a lot of boxes in that regard!

Also, a little fun observation! I am wondering if King has read this before, as a few character names he used in his own early novels showed up (Barlow and Halloran!) But perhaps I am just reading into things too much...

Overall I would recommend this if discussion surrounding exorcisms and the potential causes is something you find interesting. Also given its subsequent influence on the horror genre, I feel like this one deserves a little more attention. There are a few creepy parts, but it won’t keep you up at night! 4 stars.


Friday, 27 September 2019

Book Review: Stay Sexy and Don't Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

If you’re a fan of the My Favorite Murder podcast, then there’s a good chance of you enjoying this part memoir/part self-help book. Lacking in true crime itself (which totally works!), it shines a light on the other topics and discussions that come up regularly on the show, such as mental health issues, self-care and addiction.

“The epitome of ‘fucking politeness’ is learning how to act in the moment, instead of wishing you had later.”

For each of the catchphrases or slogans that the show has created, eg Fuck Politeness or Stay Out of the Forest, there’s essays from Karen and Georgia discussing their own life experiences or what that slogan truly means to them. I have heard the audiobook is fantastic as it is just like listening to the podcast, so I’ll have to check that out at some point too!

I laughed, I cried and I fangirled immensely over Georgia’s chapter on how Ray Bradbury’s writing effectively saved her life. One of the hardest essays to read was one where Karen writes about her late mother and her battle with Alzheimer’s. She describes a moment where their mother “came back” to tell her sister that she truly loved the two of them and I actually thought my heart was going to split in two.

But amongst all the tears and emotion, there’s so much humour, as to be expected from these two! Karen’s guide on how to be a latchkey kid is hilarious, as is her analogy that being an alcoholic is like shitting in a hot tub ie killing the buzz of everyone around you! LOL. And there were quite a few Stephen King references as well, which I particularly enjoyed... I feel like the story of how Georgia got into true crime is something that a lot of us murderinos can relate to.

This is everything I thought it would be - empowering, uplifting and honest. However, I would mostly recommend this to those who listen to the podcast, otherwise you’d be left scratching your head as to how the title fits and where all the gruesome, gory details are! Unless of course, you just like reading the memoirs of strong, funny women... then it could be right up your street! 5 stars!


Book Review: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

White Teeth focuses on the later lives of two wartime friends - the Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal and the Englishman Archie Jones - and their families in London.

”Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.”

Well. This was disappointing. Luckily I was a huge fan of Zadie’s writing itself, and so I’m not ruling out trying her other books... which means @ab_reads has not disowned me.

In reality, this should have worked for me. I enjoy stories that span decades, that follow multiple people and families. But this narrative just felt a bit TOO all over the place, with too many characters and a number of different storylines that felt completely unrelated until too late in the book. Like yeah, everything ties together eventually, but it just felt ridiculous to me.

None of the characters were particularly likeable either. I don’t need to like the characters in order to enjoy a book, but in this instance it was really off-putting. Samad, in particular, I just could not stand. The only one who I was rooting for was Irie, and she just didn’t get enough page time!

On the upside, I learnt a LOT about Jehovah’s Witnesses! I found those parts incredibly interesting, as well as the mixture of all the different cultures and religions. Smith’s writing and commentary is so witty and clever, I laughed out loud on a few occasions. So hey, it wasn’t all bad?

Overall, just not for me. I felt like it tried too hard! 2.5 stars.


Saturday, 14 September 2019

Book Review: The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

A maintenance man called Eddie dies and is sent to heaven, where he encounters five people - some known to him and some not - who each teach him a lesson.

“All endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.”

If heaven truly exists, I sure hope it’s exactly like this! What sounds better than meeting up with loved ones who have gone before and have them explain to you the meaning of your life?

Religion and whether or not you believe in heaven or the afterlife is obviously a very personal thing and therefore I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to everyone. The book wasn’t overly religious nor was it preachy either, and I do think non-religious people could still enjoy the story, but that’s up to each reader to decide!

I do believe in God and I do believe in the afterlife - and I feel like that’s a difficult thing to openly admit on here, but I feel like it’s necessary to explain why I loved this book. It was a total comfort blanket for me - my beliefs are a way of coping with my dad’s death.

This is really a very touching story about the impact we have on those around us. The style and writing is simplistic, but it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and once again I was grateful to read a weepy book like this by the pool with sunglasses to hide my tears.

In conclusion, I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone, but if it sounds like something you’d enjoy or if you’re dealing with the death of a loved one, then give it a chance! 4 stars.


Sunday, 8 September 2019

Book Review: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

An impoverished ex-student in St Petersburg, Rodion Raskolnikov, formulates a plan to kill a pawnbroker for her money.

“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.”

I’m still in shock over how much I enjoyed Crime and Punishment. SHOCK. I feared it would take me WEEKS and that I’d be begging for it to just end... but I flew through it in less than a week and quickly found myself looking at which Russian classic I wanted to tackle next!

All I can say is, if this one has interested or intrigued you, but it has intimidated you... do not be afraid!! It is incredibly accessible and bingeable. The perfect introduction to the Russian classics.

There is so much going on that it’s almost impossible to cover it all in a review. There’s a crime... and there’s punishment. And so much in between! The idea of temporary insanity, the effects a guilty conscience can have, questions about morality... and so on and so forth.

In terms of the characters, they were all so complex and well-fleshed out, and not always likeable, but my favourites were the ladies! Dunya, Raskolnikov’s sister, was the standout for me. She is so intelligent and strong-willed, with oodles of compassion for others. I also really liked Sonya, the love interest of Raskolnikov, and her dedication to her family, and found her mother Katerina to be an absolute hoot at times! Porfiry, however... god, some of his monologues were PAINFUL. I wanted to scream at him to get on with whatever he was saying!!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention, something I struggled with at the start was all the names and interchangeable nicknames etc. Thankfully my edition had a handy character list at the beginning, with each of their alternative names. But once I got into it, it was fine! Just be prepared to struggle with that at first.

Overall, a fantastic read that leaves you with a lot to think about. I’m glad that I tackled it and even more glad that I loved it! 5 stars.


Saturday, 24 August 2019

Book Review: White Oleander by Janet Fitch

Ingrid Magnusson is sent to jail for the murder of her ex-boyfriend, leaving her daughter, Astrid, to enter the foster care system.

“If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you'll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.”
White Oleander is pure poetry. The writing is absolutely exquisite - it’s one of those books where you keep pausing just to inhale really moving and poignant prose. I would happily read anything else Janet Fitch has written/will write, as she has blown me away!

The mother/daughter relationship between Ingrid and Astrid is complex, flawed and difficult. The influence that one person can hold over you is quite scary - even though Ingrid is in prison, she still exerts this weird control over Astrid from afar. Her relationship with her mother is something that Astrid struggles with, as well as the lack of a father during her youth. Fitch handles these themes and topics with a deft hand, I really didn’t want this one to end.

Following Astrid through a sequence of different foster homes is really heartbreaking, but each new home brings vibrant and strong characters, each with their own issues. Claire in particular was a standout for me, I loved the relationship that formed between her and Astrid, even though Claire herself was also a fragile soul.

I would 100% recommend this to anyone who loves reading about complicated family dynamics, in particular the frayed relationship that can exist between mothers and daughters. This book was fantastic!

I’m also still fangirling over the fact that Fitch messaged me personally on goodreads to say she enjoyed reading my reviews and was looking forward to reading more! I’ll mark that down as one of my greatest bookish moments! 4.5 stars.


Friday, 23 August 2019

Book Review: Inferno by Dante

The Inferno tells the journey of Dante through Hell, accompanied by the ancient Roman poet, Virgil.

”They yearn for what they fear for.”

Dante’s Inferno presents one of those incredibly frustrating scenarios where the plot, imagery, themes etc are all fucking insane, but the prose made me want to claw my eyeballs out. I looked at how long the actual poem was and thought “that’ll take me about 2 days?” WRONG. Over a week. This may have been due to the fact that I was also reading the accompanying notes at the back alongside each canto, but I needed to read those or I would have been utterly clueless the majority of the time.

In terms of the nine circles of Hell, all of that stuff was INCREDIBLE. There was actual POOP on one level! It was all so dark and visceral and BADASS, but I couldn’t help but wish that I was reading a graphic novel of this instead, or even an illustrated edition, as I’d love to have experienced this alongside some epic illustrations.

It’s not often that a book makes me feel dumb, but this one did. It was just a LOT of hard work, and I don’t necessarily like to feel like that when I’m reading for pleasure. So I’m not sure if I’ll ever pick up Purgatorio and Paradiso... I don’t know if I could put myself through that again.

However, I’m glad I read it and I was a huge fan of the imagery and ideas, which is why my rating isn’t a lot more savage - 3 stars.

Book Review: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

A fictionalised retelling of the story of Grace Marks and the part that she may or may not have played in the murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery. Grace was only 16 when she accused of murdering her employer and his housekeeper.

”If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged.”
This is a fantastic mix of true crime and historical fiction! Atwood blends the two wonderfully, even including actual excerpts from reports and books, as well as pictures of the two charged with the murders. Atwood’s research and attention to detail is very apparent, although I held off on reading about the true crime case that inspired the novel until after I had finished.

The story kicks off with Grace in Kingston Penitentiary, serving her sentence for these murders. That is until Doctor Simon Jordan becomes involved in her case and tries to unlock some of the memories that she claims are hidden away. What unravels is a slow-paced yet addictive read, brimming with sex, violence and commentaries on both class and gender. And I could not get enough!

My overwhelming reaction to this book was to simply be in awe of Atwood’s writing and wit. She provides such sharp astute observations that are equally intelligent and droll - I definitely sniggered on more than a few occasions.

To summarise, Atwood is a goddamn queen. Alias Grace surpasses The Handmaid’s Tale as my favourite Atwood to date and is up there in my top 10 books of the year so far! I loved every single page! 5 stars.


Sunday, 18 August 2019

Book Review: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five is about Billy Pilgrim’s survival of the firebombing of Dresden as a prisoner-of-war during World War II and is often cited as one of the most enduring anti-war novels of all time.

“How nice — to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive.”
Let me be real here - it’s times like these that I am so thankful for bookstagram. Never in my life would I have picked up this book if it wasn’t for this platform... and I am so incredibly glad I did as it surprised me in the BEST way possible.

You think this book is about one thing... and then it kinda goes down a different path that I did NOT see coming and all of a sudden there’s science fiction thrown into the mix?! Whaaaat! Yet it works SO WELL. These may even have been my favourite parts of the book!

The narrative is non-linear as we jump back and forth in time and yet it doesn’t feel disjointed in the slightest. There’s a lot of repetition as well, which again, doesn’t bother me, because Vonnegut just executes it all so seamlessly and effectively. A lot of it is just downright absurd and crazy, but if I’ve said it once I’ll say it a million times... it just works!!

I simply adored so many of the messages in this book, whether it was the anti-war stance, the commentaries on life and death, or just the fact it makes you stop and think. And it’s so goddamn funny.

There are so many books that I’ve read during my 30 before 30 challenge that I’ve thought “well, once was enough! I shan’t see you again...” but I will definitely revisit this at some point. It’s got a hold on me.

So it goes...

4.5 stars.


Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Book Review: The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Forced to flee from her hometown, Catherine Goggin finds herself pregnant and alone at just sixteen. Having settled in Dublin, she gives her newborn baby over to a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun. And so begins the story of Cyril Avery...

" had manifested the heart’s invisible furies on his face."

Reasons why you NEED this book:
- it is incredibly engrossing. Once you start you won’t want to put it down!
- it is laugh-out-loud funny. That Irish sense of humour!
- it would be a fantastic read for #pridemonth
- it tackles so many heavy issues from the oppression of the Catholic Church in Ireland to the violence and terrorism inflicted by the IRA to the HIV/AIDS crisis... it covers it all!!
- the story spans for decades from Cyril’s birth to when he reaches old age and every single stage of his life is depicted in such a heartfelt and real way
- it will crush your heart in the best way possible; books like this are the reason why we read in the first place.

This is truly one of those books where it’s hard to convey in a limited number of characters how brilliant it really is. Such memorable and well-written characters who are not without their flaws. They are all painfully human.

I love my country, but also recognise how backwards it can be in some regards - we’ve come a long way but there is still plenty that needs to change. Reading about the history of Ireland and the attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community in the 1960s is hard, there’s very little to be proud of - yet Boyne balances it perfectly with the right amount of humour so that it doesn’t become TOO depressing.

In a nutshell, if you haven’t read this one, you must! It’s a beautifully written epic saga laced with emotion that I will be shouting about from the rooftops for a very long time. I’m quite literally recommending it to everyone in my personal life.

And I got to buddy read it with one of my favourite people, Gemma!



Book Review: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The story of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman, and his struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream.

”Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with that there is.”
My first experience with Ernest Hemingway and it wasn’t terrible... nor was it amazing. It just felt very middle of the road for me.

I’ll start with what I did like. Hemingway’s writing is so simple and to the point, yet he can convey quite a lot with so few words. I also greatly admired the old man himself (Santiago, not Hemingway lol) - his perseverance and strength is truly something to behold!

I had been doing some research after I finished and was a bit dismayed to find that Hemingway had said this story isn’t an allegory for anything. The old man is just an old man. The sea is just the sea... and so forth. However I find that I like it more when I interpret it a little deeper. So I’ll just pretend it means something...

In terms of the negatives... fishing isn’t really my forte. (Is that obvious?!) Terms were being used that I didn’t understand, and I find the act of fishing itself very boring. So it wasn’t always the most invigorating read - in this case, I was thankful it was short.

Overall, I’d say I liked it slightly more than I disliked it? But in no way does it put me off reading more Hemingway. I’ll definitely give him another chance! 3 stars.


Saturday, 27 July 2019

Book Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son walk alone through burned America.

“You have my whole heart. You always did.”
Some books are an experience. This is one of them. Exhausting, bleak, brutal, heartbreaking... certain parts will just stay with me forever.

This was my first encounter with Cormac McCarthy and the beautifully poetic prose prompted me to buy yet another one of his books (I already have Blood Meridian on my shelf). His writing is GORGEOUS. The short, blunt sentences and the minimal use of dialogue would normally frustrate me, but McCarthy just makes it work. It perfectly reflects the stark, cold world that this man and his son find themselves living in. It’s stunning.

I love the relationship between the father and son. You can really feel how much they need each other, in a world where they have nothing else. My main overriding thought during a lot of this was that I just could NOT survive this. I don’t think I would have the same hope or perseverance that these characters did! And my heart was simply breaking by the end...

It doesn’t get the full five stars from me because the repetitiveness got a little tiring at times... and I honestly am just greedy and want to know more about what actually happened etc.

By far the most bleak and depressing post-apocalyptic book I’ve ever read, yet it will remain one of my favourites. 4.5 stars.


Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Book Review: Wizard and Glass by Stephen King

The fourth book in the Dark Tower series finds Roland telling his ka-tet the story of the first time he encountered a thinny, and also his first love, Susan Delgado.

“If it’s ka it’ll come like a wind, and your plans will stand before it no more than a barn before a cyclone.”
Sadie and Jake of 11/22/63 have been my favourite King love story since forever, but I’ve got a new favourite - Roland and Susan. “If you love me, then love me.” Okay, yes. They’re teenagers and it might get a bit icky if you think about it for too long. But I think King perfectly portrays the intensity and naivety of first love. I love Susan as a character, I find her incredibly relatable, and I’ve cried with her as she mourns the loss of her father.

It honestly crushes my heart to see Roland laugh and smile with such carefree abandon. I feel like this book is CRUCIAL to understanding Roland’s past and his obsession with the tower - we finally get to see the more human side of Roland, and appreciate why he is so haunted.

Outside of the love story, I absolutely adore Alain and Cuthbert. I love the bond between the three of them, it gives me warm fuzzy feelings... and SHEEMIE. What an unsung hero. Even the villains are fucking badass. Jonas and the Big Coffin Hunters are a formidable force and that scene in the bar is just epic. And the showdown in Eyebolt Canon!! I LOVE IT. Rhea the Coös is another character that I should hate, but she steals the show anytime she pops up - although she makes my skin crawl *shudders*

I just noticed I haven’t even acknowledged the parts that bookend Roland’s tale. They’re great too, and the tie-ins to The Stand will have any Constant Reader flailing!! And the writing. My god. Some of King’s best work in here. So many parts I just reread over and over. I truly feel like this is one of King’s best pieces of work.

My fangirling is over. For the time being. 5 stars.


Sunday, 21 July 2019

Book Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert. A chance meeting between the two in New York in 1899 leads to an unlikely friendship.

“All of us are lonely at some point or another, no matter how many people surround us. And then, we meet someone who seems to understand. She smiles, and for a moment the loneliness disappears.”

The Golem and the Jinni is a dazzling blend of magical realism and historical fiction - it also beautifully incorporates two different cultures as a means to explore the immigrant experience in a really effective and unique way. Both of our main characters face the struggles of coming to a new country, having to learn this new way of life and trying to fit in. As well as the additional difficulty of trying to act human! And it’s all set in a beautifully vibrant time and place.

I was truly fascinated by the golem, Chava. For me, she was a much stronger and more interesting character than the jinni. She exists to serve a master and please others, whereas the jinni is slightly more self-absorbed. To make things even better, the supporting cast is also wonderfully rich with well-drawn out backstories - special shout-out to Saleh, who I loved most of all!

It’s a bit of a slow-burner, which I personally don’t mind, as the pay-off is more than worth it, and who can complain when you’re reading such beautifully descriptive prose? It’s incredibly well-written and I’m so impressed that this is Wecker’s debut novel, as she effortlessly weaves together all the strands that make up this novel. Perfection.

I’d recommend this to those who enjoy descriptive and atmospheric books such as The Night Circus!

Thank you so much to Tes @paperbackbones for gifting me this book, and to Brendan @brendanslibrary for the buddy read! It was a delight! 5 stars.


Saturday, 6 July 2019

Book Review: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Set during World War II, Catch-22 details the experiences of Captain Yossarian and the other airmen in his camp as they try to maintain their sanity while fulfilling their service requirements so that they can return home.

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

I did it! I conquered the book I was dreading most and I made it all the way to the end..... and it actually surprised me? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not head over heels for it, but I took a lot from this one and I’m very much glad I read it.

Catch-22 is often hilarious at times, but beneath all the satire and humour, there is a very bleak and harrowing depiction of war. And towards the end I actually found that I was emotionally attached to some of the characters?! Completely unexpected!

I really appreciated some of the techniques that Heller used, one of which was using the current number of missions the military personnel needed to complete in order to go home, as a way of marking exactly where we are in the timeline of events. Another was the use of each chapter to introduce a new character (or a place), but inevitably the story always veered back towards Yossarian and the other core characters.

This book is just so CLEVER. All the little contradictions at play and the commentary on how nonsensical war can really be. I really am in awe of how well-constructed and impactful it is.

Now why didn’t I give it 5 stars? The repetition, whilst effective at times, also became irritating. Some of the characters were hard to distinguish from others. And some parts just plain bored the life outta me...

BUT for me, it was more good than bad and I wouldn’t put anyone off reading it. It might just surprise you too! 3 stars.


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