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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.

Johann
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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.

Johann
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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.

Johann
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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.

Johann
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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.

Johann
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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.

Johann
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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.

Johann
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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.

Johann
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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.

Johann
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