Friday, 24 May 2019

Book Review: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The first book in Maya Angelou’s series of autobiographies, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings depicts Angelou’s childhood in the American south in the 1930s.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Reading and reviewing memoirs is something I find quite difficult. These are real life events described by the people who went through them, and judging them just seems incredibly harsh. Of course it’s great when you love the memoir and you can happily give it 5 stars and all the praise... but when you don’t love it, it feels mean to start picking at the reasons why you didn’t.

There is absolutely no doubt that Angelou was an incredibly inspiring woman, however I didn’t always connect with this one as much as I had hoped to. Some parts are terribly upsetting and hard to read because of the horrific abuse and racial prejudices that Angelou faced, whereas other parts moved quite slowly and became kind of boring... I don’t feel like there is much joy in this book, so although it’s a very impactful read, it’s not necessarily the most enjoyable. The most joyful parts for me were those that depicted the beautiful relationship between Maya and her brother, Bailey.

This is an important book that covers topics and issues that should be discussed, and Angelou does this in such a heartbreakingly honest and truthful way using her beautifully poetic prose. I just found it a chore at times and it makes me feel bad to even admit that :(

As it’s part of a series of autobiographies, it just abruptly ends at a point where you feel like you need to know more as something quite major has just occurred... but I’m honestly not sure if I’ll read the next book. Maybe someday! But I’m still glad I read this one.

3 stars out of 5. (To clarify, this rating is based on my personal enjoyment as I don’t really believe in rating memoirs)


Saturday, 18 May 2019

Book Review: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies is now one of those books I WISH I had studied in school, I’d have loved to have delved deeper into the symbolic meanings and themes, instead of just having my basic reader experience! There’s probably so much I’m missing... it almost makes me want to read through the spark notes for the novel!

“What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages?”

It really provides a fascinating insight into how quickly chaos can ensue once civilisation ceases to exist. And it’s somehow even more terrifying once you consider the fact that these are young boys. In a way it made me think of Under the Dome - it’s definitely possible that this was its inspiration given how much King loves this one!

Speaking of King, I was MAJORLY geeking out at the stone formation being called Castle Rock - I quickly darted to google to confirm that yes, King named his town after the fictional mountain fort in Lord of the Flies. Somehow I didn’t know this - but it does make complete sense given the glowing introduction King has provided in this edition.

Unfortunately I found the writing a little dry at times and I also got quite frustrated as well as it wasn’t always clear who was speaking? This is one of my major pet peeves in books - GIVE ME SOME INDICATION. A few of the characters felt interchangeable which didn’t help - even now I can only really distinguish Jack, Ralph and Piggy.

But otherwise I really enjoyed this and some of the imagery will stay with me forever - particularly when it came to the beast and their “gift” for it!

Really glad I finally read it! 4 stars.


Saturday, 11 May 2019

Book Review: Kill, My Darlings by Christy Aldridge

I’ve been reading so many classics lately for my 30 before 30 challenge and my horror itch hasn’t really been scratched for a while... so as soon as I received this copy of Kill, My Darlings from @christy_aldridge I pretty much started the minute I got it out of the package!

“That’s where they live. They can’t eat in the light. They can’t have their Tommy-feast unless the lights are out.”

Aldridge covers quite a broad range of different horror stories - there’s cannibalism, a terrifying clown, erotica, boogeymen and demons, so there’s really something that appeals to every horror fan’s taste!

Favourites for me were Lizzy Clearly Had A Bad Day, Billy and The Tommy-Feast. Billy in particular was hilarious - it’s about a guy who’s hand becomes kinda jealous when he finally gets a girlfriend... I just love stories that are so off the wall and original. Especially when they’re delivered in such a humorous way. I also feel like I need to mention Insatiable here as well - I’m not a prude in the slightest but even this story had me blushing!

A minor complaint would be that sometimes things are over-explained, especially in the first story The Mistress, which is about a female serial killer. It’s told entirely from her point of view and some points are maybe hammered home a bit too much?

But otherwise this collection is quite fun! It’s funny at times, with plenty of gore and body fluids, yet there are also more psychological stories that are quite effective as well. All in all, a nice mixture of different horror stories and I would definitely read more from Alridge! 3.5 stars!


Sunday, 5 May 2019

50 Horror Books You Must Read!

Behold! A blog post I've been working on for a few weeks now. I often get asked which horror books I would recommend, so I thought I'd make my life a little easier and create a mammoth list. So as of this minute, here are 50 books that I've read and enjoyed. I have included some that I personally wasn't overly enamoured with, but reading is such a personal experience that I thought I'd give you the chance to make up your own mind! In a year or so I might post an update with great horror books that I've discovered since this list was made. In the list you'll find novels, some short stories and a few novellas thrown in too... Enjoy!

1. Pet Sematary - Stephen King
It’s me. Of course this book is at the top of the pile! (Even though the rest are in no way ranked…). An incredible horror novel providing heartbreaking insight into death, loss and grief. The horror is not found in huge tense, scary moments, but in those quiet and soul-crushing moments of grief.

2. Summer of Night – Dan Simmons
If you love IT, you’ll love Summer of Night. One of the few books to give me restless nights and one of the most unsettling and unforgettable death scenes. Think kids on bikes coming together to battle the evil that lurks beneath their town.

3. The Hellbound Heart – Clive Barker
Do you like a little bit of blood in your horror? Or copious amounts of it? LOOK NO FURTHER. If you’ve never read the novella that inspired Hellraiser, get to it!

4. Books of Blood Vol 1-6 – Clive Barker
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Barker’s combination of imagination and incredible writing is unparalled. The range of stories and sub-genres within the Books of Blood are staggering.

5. IT – Stephen King
I mean… this is a given. King’s masterpiece on the horror genre. And yet it is so much more than this. He tackles abuse, growing up, the loss of innocence, childhood friendships… it’s worth every damn page.

6. The Devil Crept in – Ania Ahlborn
Quite possibly the modern queen of horror, Ahlborn is both an incredibly talented writer and a great storyteller. In this one, a young boy goes missing in a small town where another had gone missing a few years previous. Weird shit is happening, okay?! And Ahlborn is not afraid to go to dark places… so check it out.

7. Seed – Ania Ahlborn
Demonic possession is one of my favourite types of horror stories, and Seed would rank highly in the ones I have read. Unsettling and creepy, and really worth your time.

8. The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
With one of the most iconic opening paragraphs in history, Jackson shows that you don’t need guts and gore and disturbing scenes in order to write a great horror novel. Old school horror where the tension and dread is slowly turned up can be just as effective.

9. A Winter Haunting – Dan Simmons
A really tight, well-written follow-up for fans of Summer of Night. There’s just something about creepy occurrences in a house that will always work for me – because I too live in a house!! This could happen to ME. 

10. Carrion Comfort – Dan Simmons
Oh, boy. This one is an undertaking. It is HUGE and pretty heavy and depressing. It is unlikely that you will ever encounter more hateful characters than the “mind vampires” in this book. And by mind vampires I mean people that have the ability to take over your mind and control your actions from a distance – HOW terrifying. This one also had sex and gore galore! Not for the faint of heart.

11. Cabal – Clive Barker
A thrilling combination of fantasy and horror that demonstrates how sometimes humans can be more evil and destructive than the actual monsters themselves. And I vividly recall some raunchy scenes…

12. NOS4A2 – Joe Hill
A bona-fide top 5 book of all-time for me! We have one of the greatest villain tag-teams in Charlie Manx and Bing AND the setting is the most wonderfully dark and festive Christmasland. NOS4A2 is so original and inventive and unique - it doesn’t even FEEL like it’s 700+ pages, and that’s when you know it’s a fantastic book.

13. Heart-Shaped Box – Joe Hill
I read this one before I even knew Hill was King’s son. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree though, and this is a really solid rock n’ roll ghost story.

14. Hell Hound – Ken Greenhall
This one sticks with you, especially if you have your own furry friend. Is your dog secretly plotting to kill you? WHO KNOWS. Disturbing with a dark sense of humour, I really enjoyed this one.

15. The Girl Next Door – Jack Ketchum
The Girl Next Door should come with a warning – it is NOT for everyone. It is not a book to be enjoyed, but a book to be experienced. Based on the real life torture and murder of Sylvia Livens, it’s a brutal read and you’ll feel every emotion under the sun. You’ve been warned.

16. KIN – Kealan Patrick Burke
Imagine Texas Chainsaw Massacre but with really well-developed characters that you form an attachment to. It’s got blood and gore in abundance, but it’s got heart as well. Believe me, you won’t ever forget about Momma-in-Bed…. 

17. Blanky – Kealan Patrick Burke
If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you’ll notice that I have a special place in my heart for stories that focus on loss and grief. Add in a dash of horror and there’s a 99% chance I will love the book in question. Blanky is sad and heavy, but horrifying too.

18. Duma Key – Stephen King
I wouldn’t classify this as a straight-up horror novel, but it has horror aspects. AND it has one of the greatest friendships ever in the form of Edgar Freemantle and Wireman. Such an underrated King!

19. Sour Candy – Kealan Patrick Burke
A friendly reminder of why some people don’t want kids… they can be pretty frickin’ scary. This is like a weird, fucked-up episode of the Twilight Zone. You need it.

20. Bleed – Ed Kurtz
For those who are already big fans of Hellraiser/The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker. This title promises blood and oh boy, does it deliver. This made my top books of 2018 list, however it is not for the faint of heart. But I am one sick puppy.

21. Night Shift – Stephen King
In my opinion, the greatest short story collection by King. From The Boogeyman to Children of the Corn to I Am the Doorway… the quality does not let up. And the majority are straight-up horror tales. The Last Rung on the Ladder is my favourite King short ever and always makes me cry – this collection is worth it for this story alone. 

22. Carter and Lovecraft – Jonathan L Howard
Lovecraftian horror is another one of my JAMS. And this one is basically written as an ode to Lovecraft and his fiction. Definitely check this one out if you’re into Lovecraft’s mythology.

23. Penpal – Dathan Auerbach
One of the more strange reading experiences I’ve had, where I wasn’t sure how much I was enjoying it until I finished and thought “HEY, that was actually fucking disturbing”. It played on my mind for about a week after reading, so it certainly left its mark.

24. December Park – Ronald Malfi
Coming-of-age horror stories are the BEST. Especially when the protagonist is a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen – what can I say, perhaps I am biased. Malfi is a fantastic writer and I would also recommend this one for fans of IT/Summer of Night.

25. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Just to reiterate this one more time – how the hell was Mary Shelley only 18 when she wrote this?? The writing is so beautiful and the story so multi-layered and complex. It really wasn’t what I was expecting. Hollywood Frankenstein couldn’t be any further from the original story!

26. Kill Creek – Scott Thomas
An interesting premise where four horror authors agree to spend the night in a haunted house together. Perhaps not as scary as I was personally hoping for, but still very enjoyable – the conversations about the horror genre and the publishing world were a particular highlight for me.

27. Bag of Bones – Stephen King
Oh hey, it’s Johann’s favourite combination again – horror and GRIEF/LOSS. I’m a sucker for it! An author coming to terms with the sudden loss of his wife (and resultant writers block) retreats to their lakeside home to face the nightmares he has been having. Bag of Bones does bring the chill factor at times, although it didn’t hold up as well when I reread it. But still – pretty good!!

28. Something Wicked this Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
I could wax lyrical about this book until I turn blue in the face. A coming-of-age tale that includes a carousel that will either age the rider or turn back the clock depending on the direction it rotates. This idea alone should be enough to sell you, nevermind the autumnal imagery and the stunning prose… I LOVE THIS BOOK.

29. The Forgotten Island – David Sodergren
A perfect homage to old-school horror with plenty of humour and skin-crawling scares. Oh, and did I mention there are also Lovecraftian monsters?! So so good!!

30. American Psycho – Brett Easton Ellis
First of all, a trigger warning for everything ever. This was equally the most disturbing book I’ve ever read and also the funniest. I have quite a dark sense of humour, so I would hazard a guess that not everyone would find it as hilarious as I did. What an incredible piece of social commentary. 

31. The Wicked – James Newman
This is basically a throwback to 80s horror, but the only difference is that it’s well-written *shots fired*. Lots of gore, blood and body fluid. AND A DEMON. So you know I’m on board.

32. Salem’s Lot – Stephen King
King’s depiction of the quiet death of a small town will never cease to captivate me. Sure, it has King’s most dull and under-developed protagonist, but the supporting characters help carry it (but not you, Susan). And it has epic villains too. King’s take on the vampire genre is a must-read!

33. Naomi’s Room – Jonathan Aycliffe
The first half send chills down my spine, and the second half just went completely off the rails in terms of how fucking disturbing it was. But both halves equate to one great ghost story. Again, one of the few books that led to me looking at photos of Barney to try and calm me down before trying to go to sleep. 

34. The Exorcist – William Peter Blatty
One of the best. This needs no introduction or selling point.

35. Legion – William Peter Blatty
Blatty is a huge fan of exploring the themes of good vs evil, and loves to ask questions such as “how can God exist when such evil occurs in the world?” Legion is a serial killer mystery book with a difference, and there are an abundance of links and connections to The Exorcist itself (The Exorcist 3 is actually based on Legion!). Huge fan of this one!

36. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
Ah, Dorian Gray… *heart eyes for days* Quite possibly my favourite classic on account of how wonderfully written and deliciously dark it is. The price one must pay for prolonged youth and vitality! We are not worthy of Oscar Wilde.

37. The Troop – Nick Cutter
A warning to all those who deem themselves to have a weak stomach - if you don’t like your books to be gory or overly descriptive, then this isn’t the book for you. However, if you’re a sick, twisted individual like myself… read on. I’d almost describe this book as Lord of the Flies on steroids. Children on an island, a sickness spreading… you get the gist. 

38. The Rats – James Herbert
Old-school horror that focuses on big ass RATS. The pace is relentless as the mutant rats start knocking off civilians in London - it’s all killer, no filler! Don’t go into this one looking for incredible character development… go into looking for huge terrifying rats, cos that’s what you’ll get.

39. The Shining – Stephen King
Again, this doesn’t really need an introduction. We know the score. 

40. Doctor Sleep – Stephen King
A very worthy sequel to The Shining, in my opinion, and the book that I would personally prefer out of the two! We get an adult Danny Torrance and Abra Stone, a kickass kid who team together to take on the True Knot, a group of quasi-immortals who feed on the “steam” produced by people who have the “shine”. A must-read before Mike Flanagan’s adaptation comes out this year!

41. Little Heaven – Nick Cutter
This one ticks a lot of boxes for me: well-developed and likeable characters, gore and blood, a religious cult with a creepy AF leader, and fucked-up illustrations. AND I even got a bit of a Lovecraftian vibe, which is obviously music to my ears…or eyes.

42. My Best Friend’s Exorcism – Grady Hendrix
I always describe this book as a demon possession story, but with heart. SO many throwbacks to the 80s as well, which makes this read an absolute blast! It makes you nostalgic for those childhood friendships that you thought would last forever – I really did not expect to be crying by the end of it.

43. Dracula – Bram Stoker
The classic vampire tale of Count Dracula, forming the foundation for all the vampire mythology that was to follow. Are you even a horror fan if you haven’t read about the OG vampire?

44. I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
I associate this book with me reaching peak geek levels as I nerded out over all the SCIENCE. An incurable plague has mutated every human but Robert Neville into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures. Richard conducts his own research into what caused the plague and it is basically an accurate portrayal of the majority of my experiences in the lab – disappointment after disappointment. Thankfully this book was not one – it was SO GOOD.

45. The Making of Gabriel Davenport – Beverley Lee
Deliciously creepy, with a constant underlying feeling of dread, The Making of Gabriel Davenport does NOT read like a debut book. The writing is simply stunning and it’s a real page-turner. If you enjoy vampires and demons (who doesn’t?), this one is worth adding to your TBR!

46. The Call of Cthulhu – HP Lovecraft
I’m not even going to waste my breath (or typing capabilities) trying to persuade you to read this. Just do it!

47. At the Mountains of Madness – HP Lovecraft
If Antarctic expeditions appeal to you, then this Lovecraft novella would be right up your street! I found it chilling… get it? Cos of the Antarctic?? … as Lovecraft slowly ramps up the tension and dread to an incredibly satisfying and horrifying ending. 

48. The Shadow over Innsmouth – HP Lovecraft
I am 99% certain that this is my favourite Lovecraft story. There’s something about strange mutated fish people that captures my imagination and gives me major heebie jeebies.

49. Night Shoot – David Sodergren
If you buy one horror release in 2019, let it be this one. This is only Sodergren’s second novel and yet his work reads like that of an esteemed author who’s been at it for years. Desperate student filmmakers break into Crawford Manor for an unauthorised night shoot. And shit. kicks. off. It is equally disturbing and hilarious, and I recommend the hell out of it. 

50. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein – Kiersten White
A re-telling of Frankenstein that is dark and creepy with exquisite writing. And strong female characters. This one impressed the pants of me and it needs to be on the tbr of every Frankenstein fanatic.


Saturday, 4 May 2019

Book Review: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple has an abundance of strong, inspiring and unforgettable female characters. Each woman has their own unique story, but they are all linked by the different forms of abuse, prejudice or oppression that they have suffered.

"I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it."
Our protagonist Celie writes letters to God and her sister Nellie, telling her story as well as the stories of those around her. The overarching theme of sisterhood is such a joy to revel in as we get to witness the journey towards self-realisation that the enigmatic Shug Avery brings Celie on.

It’s a brutal read, but a story that needs to be told. Rape and child abuse is never easy to read about, but Walker makes you confront these realities head on. I was quite surprised by the direction the story took in terms of the growth and changes that some characters took, but it was an inspiring reminder that the human spirit is not static and it cannot always be caged.

One of my favourite sections of the book was when Shug Avery talks to Celie about her views on God and how she does not view him as the stereotypical single entity of a white man with a long beard, but he surrounds us all! He’s in all the things that make people happy, and I just found this entire section to be really uplifting and it is probably what will remain me the longest after finishing this book.

Unfortunately I don’t feel like I connected to this one as deeply as I had hoped to - I very much enjoyed the themes and the story, but I guess that emotional connection to the characters just wasn’t there for me. I think it was mostly due to the fact that reading this was a struggle at times as I really had to focus and concentrate to make sure I was taking it in and interpreting it correctly! It took me quite a while to get through what is a relatively short book, and these are really the only reasons why it doesn’t get a full 5 stars - as otherwise, the plot and message cannot be faulted! 4 stars.


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