Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (Book Review)

The film adaptation of Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon comes out today in the United States. It was directed by Stella Meghie and stars Amandla Stenberg & Nick Robinson. I must admit that I really enjoyed this book and am annoyed about the three month wait to see the film in the United Kingdom (the release date is set for the 18th of August here). Here’s my review of the novel…

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

What It’s About: (via Wikipedia)
The novel centers on 18-year-old Madeline Whittier, who has severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), also known as “bubble baby disease”. Due to her condition, Madeline is stuck inside her house in Los Angeles, where she lives with her mother, a physician who takes care of her.

My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed this book. But I must admit that it’s a full-on “Young Adult” teen book. I know plenty of grown-ups like myself who still read YA stuff and there have been some fantastic novels in this genre. Unfortunately, though, the Young Adult label has a somewhat negative connotation to it nowadays. This is probably partly due to the fact that there seems to be so much of it now. There wasn’t half as much of it around when I was a young adult myself. Man, I’d have especially loved the post-apocalyptic dystopian thing that is so overused in this genre now. 

What’s my point? I’m getting off topic! I think my point is this: don’t automatically assume a book isn’t good just because it has the YA label. Some feel very teenage while others are just really good stories that transcend any sort of recommended age range (is Harry Potter considered YA? I would assume so). And like them or not, The Hunger Games books don’t immediately make me think “ugh, teenagers!!!”. 

Some YA, however, is very teen and Everything, Everything is clearly written with its teenage audience in mind. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with aiming to please your target audience. This would’ve probably been a favorite book of mine if it had been around in my early to mid-teens (although it would’ve been a very rare favorite in the romance genre as it’s not often that I go for a love story of any sort). As an adult, I can’t say this could now ever be a favorite book of mine but I did find it a very enjoyable read (easily one of the most enjoyable I’ve read so far this year). It has a fairly unique story, an unconventional romance, and a really likable main character. 

I think a lot of YA novels don’t always write convincing teenage characters, probably because the authors are usually adults. The characters either seem too grown-up or too childish and are often hard to like. I think Yoon got the right balance with the character of Madeline as she felt like a real 18-year-old with the hopes & dreams you’d expect from a girl who has been stuck in her home for 18 years due to having severe combined immunodeficiency. She was intelligent but not mature beyond her years and, most importantly (to me), she was very likable in a convincing sort of way. I do think that not enough attention was given to the other characters: the neighbor boy she falls in love with, her mother, and the nurse who cares for her during the day. We don’t get to know any of them as well as I’d have liked but I can forgive this as it’s not a very long book. Madeline is very much the novel’s main focus and I was happy with her character. 

I’m having a hard time explaining why I liked this one… I doubt I’ve talked anyone into reading it! But if you do really like YA novels (probably aimed more at a female audience in this case), this is one I’d definitely recommend as a lightweight but entertaining read. Madeline has had to find ways to keep herself entertained while being a “prisoner” in her own home so we get to see some fun drawings & doodles of hers throughout the book plus we get to read e-mails & instant messages between her and the neighbor boy she falls for. These gimmicks may not be for everyone but I like books that have this sort of thing as it makes it a bit more personal & fun to read. It also shows how Madeline has managed to maintain a sense of humor through her illness. Plus, as I said, I just liked the story/setup. It’s a topic I’ve found interesting ever since seeing John Travolta in The Boy In The Plastic Bubble (Ha! The 1976 TV movie… I totally just aged myself). Well, that movie was far from “good” and Everything, Everything has done a much better job of telling the story of a teenager with the “bubble baby” disease. Plus I really wanted to see what/if/how things would be resolved in this book. I will of course stay spoiler-free but the ending probably left people divided (and that’s all I’ll say). I liked it. I hope they’ve done a good film adaptation. 

My Rating: 3.5/5

Here’s the trailer for the movie (but I think it gives away too much of the story so skip the trailer if you want to know as little as possible…):

The books I’ve read so far in 2017, from least favorite to favorite:

15. The Sisters by Claire Douglas
14. Tape by Steven Camden
13. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
12. The Circle by Dave Eggers
11. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
10. The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
9. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
8. Finders Keepers by Stephen King
7. The Dinner by Herman Koch
6. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King
5. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
4. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
3. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
2. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
1. Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christie

And I’m currently in the middle of reading Blaze by Stephen King (so far, so good). 🙂

The Dinner by Herman Koch (Book Review)

I’m reviewing the book The Dinner by Herman Koch as the movie is released today in the U.S. There’s currently no U.K. release date scheduled. The movie was directed by Oren Moverman & stars Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall, Adepero Oduye & Chloë Sevigny.

The Dinner by Herman Koch

What It’s About: (via Amazon)
It’s a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse — the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.

Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

My Thoughts:

I liked this book but it’s probably not for everyone. I’ll avoid plot spoilers but I’ll tell you that none of the characters are very likable, which puts a lot of readers off (including me, usually). The story was intriguing enough to keep me reading, however, and it’s not a long book so it’s a pretty quick read. It might be worth your time if the plot synopsis interests you. However, it’s also the type of story that should work well as a movie so, if it’s a decent adaptation, you might want to skip the book. I’ll let you know if the movie does the book justice (if the movie ever gets a U.K. release date)! It’s a film I’m definitely wanting to check out as it’s one I feel could possibly improve on the book if handled well. The cast seems promising.

I liked the way the story was presented as courses instead of “Chapters”: Appetiser, Main, Dessert, etc etc (I can’t remember all the posh terms for all the different courses. Never knew there were so many courses to a fancy meal!). We slowly learn more & more about the four adults having this meal together while the story of the horrible act commited by their teenage sons comes to light.

I’m not going to say much more as the story is pretty straightforward and there’s not much more I could say anyway without spoiling it. I’ll say it’s a decent character study but doesn’t explore all the moral implications as much as it could have. By the end, it felt more shallow than I was hoping for. That’s why I’m hopeful for the possibility of a really good film adaptation as there’s some meaty material here for a really good set of screenwriters & actors to sink their teeth into. We’ll see. The Dinner isn’t as deep & meaningful as it could’ve been but it’s still an intriguing story told in a fairly original way and I’d say I enjoyed it more than several of the other 13 books I’ve read so far this year.

My Rating: 3/5

**Yes, I’m keeping a list of all the books I’ve read so far this year. At the moment, this is probably how I’d rank them (from least favorite to favorite). If you really want to know… 😉 I hope to review them all by the end of the year:

14. The Sisters by Claire Douglas
13. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
12. The Circle by Dave Eggers
11. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
10. The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
9. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
8. Finders Keepers by Stephen King
7. The Dinner by Herman Koch
6. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King
5. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
4. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
3. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
2. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
1. Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christie

(And, yes, I’m focusing on reading books that have been movies/TV shows recently or will be very soon) 🙂

The Circle by Dave Eggers (Book Review)

The film adaptation of The Circle by Dave Eggers is out today in the US (there’s no current UK release date that I can find. Hmm…). It was directed by James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) and stars Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillan, Ellar Coltrane, Patton Oswalt, Glenne Headly & Bill Paxton (R.I.P.). I’ll probably try to go to the film at some point, so will of course review that if I do. For now, here’s my review of the novel…

The Circle by Dave Eggers

What It’s About: (via Amazon)
Fast, thrilling and compulsively addictive, The Circle is Dave Eggers’ bestselling novel about our obsession with the internet and where it may lead. When Mae Holland lands her dream job at the world’s most powerful internet company, she has no idea what awaits behind the doors of The Circle…

My Thoughts:

This is one of those books where I loved the concept & agreed with its stance that, basically, the Internet & big corporations (such as the one that Fincher’s The Social Network is about) are evil. Okay, yes – I’m a blogger and I admit that I love to tweet but I’d happily hop into a time machine to go back to the Eighties and live without this sort of technology as I think we were better off without it. The world is a dreadful place & we’re living in an Orwellian dystopia. But we actually brought this all on ourselves, which I think even Orwell didn’t fully foresee. Hell, even Orwell couldn’t predict something as absurd as the rise of the Kardashi-thingies & wannabes! 😉 I blame them for society’s devolution (enabled by the Internet, of course). But back to this book…

I bring up Orwell as The Circle is indeed in a similar vein to 1984. But dystopian novels are more popular than ever and this is yet another of many that come nowhere near that masterpiece. I was pretty disappointed with The Circle overall. I absolutely love this genre and, as I said, I fully agree with this novel’s beliefs so I did expect to thoroughly enjoy it. In fact, I’ve read 14 books so far this year (that’s a lot for me!) and this is possibly my least favorite. Damn. I didn’t expect that.

I found The Circle a bit too long & meandering. It started out okay but, by halfway through, it was becoming a bit of a chore to read as its lead character (Mae Holland, played by Emma Watson in the film) was becoming more and more and MORE unlikable. I think her character is the main problem I had with the novel as I always struggle to enjoy a book when I hate its main character. This can only very occasionally be made up for if the story is exceptionally good but, unfortunately, this isn’t the case with The Circle. I know the book’s whole point is that The Circle (the evil corporation in the story) is almost cult-like and that its believers follow blindly while the reader can see what’s really going on but, ugh, you just want to slap the shit out of Mae and knock some damn sense into her! I suppose Emma Watson is a good choice for the role in the film, though, as she’s seriously starting to get on my tits lately. But I’m hoping that the film will write her character slightly differently and give her some sense.

Well, I plan to check out the movie anyway since I always like to see how novels get adapted. Maybe they can actually improve on the book (it does happen sometimes). I still really like the overall idea behind the novel & its very obvious message even though I don’t think the story and its unlikable lead character do well to convey that message & the seriousness with which we should be taking it. I think I was just hoping for something a little more insightful and less obvious. The Circle doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know and I’m not sure if it was trying to be satirical or not but, if it was, it gave the novel an odd tone that didn’t really work. I prefer my dystopian literature to either be proper satire or full-on bleak, depressing dreariness! The Circle can’t quite decide what it wants to be but I do appreciate its effort to bring further attention to a very important topic we should be taking far more seriously. I think, unfortunately, the satire maybe doesn’t work simply because this book isn’t as exaggerated as Eggers may have originally intended. This story doesn’t feel like a distant future – it feels like it has already happened.

My Rating: 2.5/5

Here’s a trailer for the movie (as is often the case lately, I think it gives too much away):

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (Book Review)

13 Reasons Why is a new young adult TV series being released on Netflix this Friday (March 31st). There will be 13 episodes (all available on Friday) and the show is based on the novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, in which a teenage boy receives a package containing audiotapes recorded by a classmate who has recently committed suicide. The show was directed by Spotlight’s Tom McCarthy & produced by Selena Gomez. I read the book recently so figured I should review it before the show airs. Here’s my review…

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

What It’s About: (via Goodreads)
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.”

My Thoughts:

I’m not entirely sure how to feel about this book. I’ll say it was very “readable”. I usually take a good few weeks to read a book (due to lack of free time) but this was a quick & easy read plus I found that I really didn’t want to put it down as I was truly curious to see how it would end (I read it over a weekend). It’s an uncomfortable subject matter, however, and I still don’t know if I feel right about how it was handled. Plus, the below trailer for the TV show makes it look almost like an “exciting mystery”, which I don’t think is necessarily a responsible way to market the story. I guess we’ll see how the show unfolds. This IS a book about suicide. The only “mystery” is why the girl did it, which she explains in her audiotapes. The trailer’s mood just feels a bit off to me.

I’ll say this is very much a teen book but it didn’t feel immature or like the author had dumbed it down for its target audience. My teenage years are far far (far!) behind me but this book feels like it was written in a way that would seem genuine & relevant to a modern teen. I know nothing of the book’s success but I would imagine that current teens can relate to it whereas I feel that certain other young adult books are too obviously written by authors whose teen years are far far (far!) behind them. Okay, yeah – I’ve just looked up the author (Jay Asher) and he’s my sort of age. I also think that he did a good job with the character of Hannah Baker, the girl who commits suicide. It can’t be easy for a middle-aged man to capture the feelings of a teenage girl but I think he did well with her character (probably even better than with the main male character, Clay Jensen).

I’ll of course avoid major spoilers but the main moral of this story is to treat people with kindness and to be aware of the signs to watch for that may indicate that someone is suicidal. I of course agree with this message and would love to think that this book could save some lives but, well, I don’t think the world works that way. If anything, it worries me that this story could play into the rather typical teenage thoughts about suicide: that whole “this will make people notice me & understand what I was going through” thing. No. The bullies, etc? They didn’t care beforehand & they wouldn’t care afterwards. I hope no one thinks that because of this book. However, from the other point of view, who knows? Maybe it would help some teens to notice the warning signs & perhaps offer someone some help. Maybe. The nice ones. (Is it obvious that I thought a lot of the people in my high school were uncaring assholes?!)

I admit that Thirteen Reasons Why was a bit of a page-turner, even if the subject matter left me feeling uncomfortable. Clay listens to several cassette tapes from Hannah, each focusing on a different classmate & the role each person played in her final decision. This meant we were told several stories as Clay listened to each tape, which was an interesting way to set up this novel. Hannah Baker was a well fleshed-out character though, interestingly, kind of hard to like. Maybe that was partly the point… Due to various incidents, she turned inward so I suppose she was kind of ignored. Clay Jensen comes across as a little less genuine but I think this is due to his seeming so simple in comparison to Hannah’s complexity. Overall I’d probably recommend this book to anyone who likes young adult fiction and who is emotionally stable. But I wouldn’t necessarily want anyone who is anything like Hannah Baker’s character to read it…

My Rating: 3/5

Here’s the trailer for the Netflix series, starring Dylan Minnette as Clay Jensen & Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker:

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (Book Review)

Big Little Lies is a seven-episode series starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman & Shailene Woodley. It’s airing on HBO in America this Sunday (19th of February) and looks like it will air on Sky Atlantic in the UK sometime in March.

Based on the novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty, the show was created by David E Kelley & directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (director of films such as Wild & Dallas Buyers Club). Having just read the book, I figured it was time I do a quick book review for anyone who may be interested in either the novel or the TV show…

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

What It’s About: (via Amazon)
Perfect family, perfect house, perfect life; Jane, Madeline and Celeste have it all . . . or do they? They are about to find out just how easy it is for one little lie to spiral out of control.

My Thoughts:

I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed this book as it’s certainly not my usual sort of genre (give me Stephen King, fantasy, dystopian, or post-apocalyptic!). Is it chick lit? I hate that term – It’s so condescending. And I hate the so-called chick lit genre as it tends to be the “silly” books that are given this label. I suppose it’s certainly aimed at female readers, though.

I haven’t read reviews at all but I would assume the main comparison being used to describe this book’s story & overall feel is Desperate Housewives, which would be extremely accurate. I have a confession: I’m not a girly girl & watch very few girly things but I watched all of Desperate Housewives (despite its AWFUL title, which almost made me not watch it in the first place). But then the opening DH scene started with a tragic death and a woman who then happily realized that it meant she wouldn’t have to return (some kitchen appliance she’d borrowed – can’t remember) to the now-dead woman. And I was hooked! Well-written dark humor with rich characters is something I can get behind. Who cares what label you give it? I don’t think Big Little Lies is quite as good as that first season of Desperate Housewives (as with all shows, DH went badly downhill in later years) and it doesn’t have as much of that darkly humorous streak but it’s a fun satire on parents, particularly mothers, and the crazy world of school politics.

Big Little Lies starts with a tragic & unexplained death on the night of the adult-only trivia fundraiser taking place at the novel’s school. Our three main characters, Jane, Madeline & Celeste, each have five-year-olds attending their first year of school. This is a fairly long book that I found a very quick read thanks to the way it was broken up into so many chapters & the way most chapters ended with statements from witnesses who were there on the trivia night. After the opening chapter in which someone has died, the novel then goes back to the beginning of the school year to introduce us to all our main potential victims and murderers. I loved not even knowing who ends up the victim, which kept me reading as I was anxious to find out. The witness statements at the end of the chapters give us little clues along the way as to what may have happened.

Big Little Lies isn’t exactly some piece of “worthy literature” but it was a light & entertaining read and should make for an enjoyable TV series. I’d actually like to see them up the dark humor for the show if they can. The book sounds more shallow than it actually is – It tackles some heavy issues, especially at the end, but it could’ve done with sticking more to its sassy satire we mainly glimpse in the witness statements and through the character of Madeline. Speaking of Madeline, the casting of Reese Witherspoon for this role is absolute perfection – I can totally see her as this outwardly superficial character with the deep down heart of gold. I can also see Woodley & Kidman as Jane & Celeste now even though Celeste won’t be how I pictured looks-wise but Kidman definitely has the right sort of personality & manner to suit the role well. With a lot of big names involved, including Jean-Marc Vallée as the director, I think the show is in good hands & I’m looking forward to seeing how they adapt the book.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Here’s the UK trailer for the TV show. I think they’ve upped the drama! Hope the show doesn’t take itself too seriously…

Finders Keepers by Stephen King (Book Review)

Finders Keepers by Stephen King

What It’s About: (via Wikipedia)
Finders Keepers is the second volume in a trilogy focusing on Detective Bill Hodges, following Mr. Mercedes. The book is about the murder of reclusive writer John Rothstein (an amalgamation of John Updike, Philip Roth, and J. D. Salinger), his missing notebooks and the release of his killer from prison after 35 years.

My Thoughts:

I found the first book in this trilogy, Mr Mercedes, very enjoyable (I reviewed it HERE). Stephen King managed to create some of his most likable characters in that book so I can see why it became a trilogy as I was, and I’m sure a lot of people were, happy to continue reading about retired detective Bill Hodges and his odd assortment of friends & now colleagues. I’ve heard good things about the final book and someone hinted that it goes a bit more supernatural, which is much more my kind of thing than a straightforward crime novel, so I’m really looking forward to reading it this year. However, I found this second book quite weak compared to the first one and slightly disappointing overall for a King novel.

I’m not going to do an in-depth review since one of my blog goals this year is to keep my book reviews short. King is easily my favorite author so, when I find a book of his slightly disappointing, it’s still likely that I enjoyed it more than a lot of books that I’ve read from other authors. That’s the case this time – I enjoyed the book but it’s certainly not as good as Mr Mercedes and is one of the more forgettable King novels compared to his other work.

I found I didn’t care about the characters in this one (a young boy, who finds the notebooks & money stolen from a murdered author, and that boy’s family). The boy’s family is struggling with money thanks to the dad being hurt by the Mercedes Killer in the first book. The Finders Keepers murderer himself is uninteresting and it takes quite a long time for Bill Hodges & his friends from the first book to even make an appearance. I kept reading & thinking “When do we get to see the Mr Mercedes characters?!”. I did like the idea of a famous author having so much material hidden away from the world and it may have been nice to actually learn a little more about this author before he was murdered at the very beginning of this novel. He seemed more interesting than the other new characters in this book.

Oh well – it’s a decent story, we get to see Bill Hodges & his friends again, and we get to now move on to the final book (which I’m hoping will be as good as the first one and doesn’t make the mistake of straying from our favorite characters too much).

My Rating: 3/5

My Top Ten Books Read In 2016

Welcome to Day Two of my annoying End-Of-Year Lists! Today I’m ranking the thirteen books that I read in 2016 (but it’s still a Top Ten as I didn’t really like the bottom three very much). As always, I rank things according to my own personal taste. For example, number 13 is a far better & more well-written book than 12 or 11 – I just enjoyed 12 & 11 slightly more. I’m also quite proud that I somehow managed to review them all (poorly, though – I suck at book reviews even more than movie reviews) so I’ve included the links to what I said about each.

So now, counting down to my very favorite, these are all the books that I read in 2016:

Three Not-So-Great:

13. Straight White Male by John Niven

12. The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

11. The Death Cure by James Dashner

Top Ten Much-Better-Ones:

10. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

9. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

8. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

7. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

6. The End Of The World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker

5. Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

4. Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

3. The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

2. 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

1. The Colour Of Magic by Terry Pratchett

Can I just say that, while I highly recommend at least my top seven, I want to give a special mention to Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts. I’ve now read several of his books after wanting to find out if he was as good as his father (Stephen King). I’ve really enjoyed all his books so far but, finally, 20th Century Ghosts is one that I really loved. As with all short story collections, some stories are much stronger than others. But the best ones are fantastic!

**See you for two more end-of-year lists over the next two days. Tomorrow I’ll be posting a list of My Top Ten Movies Watched At Home In 2016 then will end on Friday with My Top Ten Movies Released In 2016 (going by UK release dates). 🙂

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (Book Review)

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (short story collection)

What It’s About: (via Amazon)

Imogene is young, beautiful . . . and dead, waiting in the Rosebud Theater one afternoon in 1945. . . .

Francis was human once, but now he’s an eight-foot-tall locust, and everyone in Calliphora will tremble when they hear him sing. . . .

John is locked in a basement stained with the blood of half a dozen murdered children, and an antique telephone, long since disconnected, rings at night with calls from the dead. . . .

Nolan knows but can never tell what really happened in the summer of ’77, when his idiot savant younger brother built a vast cardboard fort with secret doors leading into other worlds. . . .

The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past. . . .

My Thoughts:

I absolutely loved this short story collection from Joe Hill. I’ve read several Joe Hill books now & commented on my review for Heart-Shaped Box that, while I’m really enjoying his books, they still weren’t quite living up to his father’s (Stephen King – my favorite author). But I was determined that one day I’d read a Joe Hill book that I really do love. I’d say that 20th Century Ghosts is finally the one!

This collection is fantastic and the very best stories live up to King’s short stories. What was also great was that there were plenty that weren’t even within the horror genre, including some with brilliantly original ideas (such as in the story Pop Art – I’ve never read anything quite like that one). So I’ll review this one in the same way I reviewed his dad’s short story collection The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams – I’ll give a very brief opinion on each story then an overall rating & what my five favorite stories were. So here we go!

My Quick Thoughts On Each Story:

Best New Horror:

Yikes. This one was genuinely disturbing and one for true lovers of “horror”. I was a little worried, as this was the first story, that the rest of them would be as horrific (which wasn’t the case at all). But this is a brilliant piece of writing & one of the stories that I know I’ll remember the most from this collection years from now. Atmospheric & creepy, this story shows that Hill can write very effective horror.

20th Century Ghost:

I ADORED this story. I can tell you right now that this was my favorite but, of course, it was likely to be as it involved something very dear to me: a love of movies. I won’t get into details on the story to avoid spoilers but, as the title may suggest, it’s about a ghost haunting a movie theater. This story is perfect. I loved it so much! And what a relief to read this one, which made my heart happy, after the thoroughly disturbing one that started the book…

Pop Art:

Wow. This story is truly brilliant and utterly unique. It’s about a boy named Art. And he may pop. Why? Because he’s inflatable. This is some good shit. How is Joe Hill not a household name after writing this one?? Well, maybe it’s too weird for the mainstream but those who appreciate something a bit left of center may love this one.

You Will Hear The Locust Sing:

Another piece of amazing writing, this is Hill’s ode to Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Not my personal favorite but admittedly one of the better stories in this novel overall.

Abraham’s Boys:

Again, not a personal favorite of mine but this was an intriguing alternative take on vampire-hunter Van Helsing’s life.

Better Than Home:

This was a beautiful story about a loving father & son relationship. I can’t say I really related to it, especially as there’s a lot of baseball talk (Hill & his father clearly love baseball) but it’s a sweet & not overly-sentimental story I’m sure a lot of people would like.

The Black Phone:

A very King-like story about a kidnapped boy & the mysterious phone in the basement where he’s being kept. Loved the supernatural vibe. Fans of Hill’s dad will like this one.

In The Rundown:

A good story about a late teen/early twentysomething(?) boy beat down by life and about a woman going to desperate measures. But I have to admit I had to grab the book just now to remind me what this one was about so it’s clearly not one that stuck with me.

The Cape:

Definitely one of the strongest stories in the book, I thoroughly enjoyed this story of two brothers and a magic cape that allows one of them to fly. And I loved the turn the story took at the end. Another one that really displays Hill’s storytelling talent.

Last Breath:

A very short story but, again, a truly original & unique idea. I’d love to see this one & a few others adapted for some kind of anthology film/TV show. This story would work really well on screen.

Dead-Wood:

This is another one where I just had to refresh my memory. Didn’t take long as it’s only just over one page! A good, weird little story that actually reminds me of a Tales Of The Unexpected episode I saw once involving plants “screaming”. Man I loved that show. I guess it’s a bit like The Happening too, though. Ugh – Sorry! I didn’t mean to compare that movie to Hill’s work. Hill’s work is much better…

The Widow’s Breakfast:

Another lovely story that doesn’t fall at all within the horror genre, this is about a kind widow & a homeless man in the 1930s. I easily remembered this one – I preferred it to the father/son story in Better Than Home. But both are great for non-horror lovers.

Bobby Conroy Comes Back From The Dead:

Joe Hill, you’re truly after my heart with your choices of settings in these stories! First we had the brilliant movie theater ghost story then, with this one, we have a “love story” on the set of George A. Romero’s 1978 Dawn Of The Dead! An all-time favorite film of mine (and by far the best zombie flick ever)!!! Loved this story. Loved it! Hill & I clearly like the same sort of stuff. Other than baseball…

My Father’s Mask:

A bizarre story with a fantastic vibe. Sort of made me think of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut for some strange reason. But, like, a good version of that…

Voluntary Committal:

BRILLIANT story! The best in this book (and also my favorite alongside 20th Century Ghost, which has a slight edge for me only because it’s movie-related). I always feel bad comparing Hill to King but, yes, this one is very King-like and King’s fans will love it. It’s my favorite sort of story – one with a supernatural edge and very strong writing. I’d hazard a guess that this story is the favorite of most who read this collection. After this story and the four others I’ve listed below, I’m now indeed a firm fan of Joe Hill’s writing.

Scheherazade’s Typewriter:

A sneaky little story hidden within the Acknowledgments at the end of the book. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you that… It’s meant to be a surprise! Well, don’t miss out on this fun 3-page story – it’s well worth your time. As is this entire book. Fantastic work from Joe Hill! Now I can’t wait to read my new copy of The Fireman.

My Overall Rating For 20th Century Ghosts: 4.5/5

My Top Five Stories (in book appearance order):

20th Century Ghost
Pop Art
The Cape
Bobby Conroy Comes Back From The Dead
Voluntary Committal

**Hope you all have a great weekend and, for those who celebrate it, a very Merry Christmas! I’ll be back next week with a review of my final Blind Spot Movie (Akira), followed by four end-of-year lists of my favorite books & movies this year. I love end-of-year lists!!!! Hope to see all of yours too. 🙂

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami (Book Review)

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Batoru Rowaiaru
Japanese: バトル・ロワイアル

What It’s About: (via Wikipedia)
The story tells of junior high school students who are forced to fight each other to the death in a program run by the authoritarian Japanese government, now known as the Republic of Greater East Asia.

My Thoughts:

I watched the Battle Royale movie as one of my Blind Spot choices this year (review HERE). I really liked it but my one complaint was that it felt a bit more “shallow” than I’d been expecting. So I picked up the (very thick!) book in the hopes that I’d get more of an in-depth look into why these children are being forced to fight to the death and to also get to know the characters and their motivations a bit better. I now have to say that reading the book if you’ve already seen the movie isn’t necessarily needed…

Don’t get me wrong – I liked the book a lot so I don’t feel like I wasted my time on this (very thick!) novel. I did get to know the characters better, especially the main three that are followed (Shuya Nanahara, Noriko Nakagawa & Shogo Kawada). It was also cool to get a good few pages or sometimes even several chapters (mostly on the best friends of our main character) devoted to each and every one of the 42 students in the Battle Royale program.

However, the film is quite faithful to the book & I didn’t learn much more than I did from the movie. And what did get changed for the film actually worked for the better, I think. This was especially true of the changes to the man in charge of the group, Kinpatsu Sakamochi. I was surprised to find, in the novel, that he actually has no prior attachment in any way to these students while there’s an interesting link in the film. Also, the film pushes the girl (Noriko Nakagawa) front and center a bit more while she’s the least-developed of the main characters in the book & it’s very much the boy (Shuya Nanahara) who is the star. The book’s male characters are better developed overall than its females are but, again, I did appreciate getting to know the extra characters in the book as the movie obviously couldn’t devote time to all 42 of them.

All in all, Battle Royale is a thoroughly entertaining (and gory) book & film. It has a message of sorts but I feel it’s sort of lost in the gore. I can now see why Quentin Tarantino loves the film as it feels like violence for the sake of violence. I do now have to admit that The Hunger Games is indeed very close plot-wise in so many ways that it’s understandable why Battle Royale fans called that series a rip-off. The Hunger Games is Battle-Royale-Lite, though – both are considered Young Adult in their country of origin but the violence is far more excessive in this novel. Just a warning – I doubt anyone will be handing this book over to their 13-year-old to read anyway. I feel kind of “bad” for enjoying this one as the violence seems excessive. But I really liked the main characters & getting to know all the other students, the action and pacing worked well, it was a fairly quick read (despite being very thick!), and that whole Lord Of The Flies setup is still an intriguing one. But you really can just watch the movie if you don’t fancy the (really thick!) novel.

My Rating: 4/5

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Book Review)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

What It’s About: (via Amazon)

What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty.

One snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in North America. The world will never be the same again.

Twenty years later Kirsten, an actress in the Travelling Symphony, performs Shakespeare in the settlements that have grown up since the collapse. But then her newly hopeful world is threatened.

If civilization was lost, what would you preserve? And how far would you go to protect it?

My Thoughts:

This is a pretty fantastic book within my beloved post-apocalyptic genre. I don’t know why I’m obsessed with this genre… But, anyway – I’ll probably compare this to The End Of The World Running Club by Adrian J Walker since I read this just after that one. Running Club focuses on one main character & his family immediately after the world is pretty much annihilated by asteroids while this one follows several different characters twenty years after most of humanity was wiped out by the “Georgia Flu” as well as showing us some characters in flashbacks before the pandemic. I’d say I liked both of these books equally but Station Eleven is definitely the “better” one of the two. I believe it won an award (Yep – I just looked it up. It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2015, which is “a British award given for the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year“). This one feels like, I dunno… Proper literature! What I mean is that I could see Station Eleven being read in schools while Running Club is more mainstream fiction. Did I somehow manage to just insult both books in that sentence??? 😉 I didn’t mean to in any way – I really liked & recommend both books but they have quite different styles.

Station Eleven is very unique in the way the characters are connected, both past & present. Kirsten, an actress in a group of performers who travel the country to entertain people after society has collapsed, is obsessed with gathering information on a famous actor she worked with in a Shakespeare play as a child & who died before her eyes on the stage. That same night is when the Georgia Flu pandemic took hold & we slowly learn how Kirsten has come to be with this travelling group of actors & musicians twenty years later. There are very few survivors left after the pandemic and no electricity, medicine, etc. Travelling can be very dangerous but this group wishes to keep the arts alive.

Two of the only things Kirsten has left from the pre-pandemic world and her most prized possessions are the first two issues of a comic book called Dr. Eleven. The parts of the book that detail this comic book and its author plus the comic book’s story set on a space station called Station Eleven are my absolute favorite parts of this novel. It’s through this comic book that, unbeknownst to Kirsten & several other main characters, they’re all linked.

I’ve not given it a lot of thought but I suppose this book is making a comment on how humanity is all connected, even without the current modern technology that makes staying connected so much easier (Skype, air travel, etc – all these things no longer exist in this book). Also, it shows that we long for this connection and there are attempts to rebuild things in the book (the publishing of a newspaper given out to travellers and the way the symphony continues to travel & perform despite the danger). There are also the obvious parallels between this post-apocalyptic Earth and the hostile space station that Dr. Eleven finds himself on in the novel’s comic book.

I’ve not read another Emily St. John Mandel book but she’s written a fantastic novel here and the way in which she weaves these characters’ lives together was truly unique. This was quite different from other books I’ve read & is well worth a read no matter what sort of genre you like. I have to say that this book, based on its writing & originality, deserves a slightly higher rating than I’m giving it. The only slight downside for me was that I didn’t buy into the characters as much as I’d have liked. I can’t explain why, however… But for whatever reason, I cared more about the characters in The End Of The World Running Club. Like I also said with that one, however, this would make for an absolutely brilliant film if the right filmmakers/actors were involved. I’d love to see this story brought to life on the screen and for this book to get even more recognition. I’d happily read another book from Emily St. John Mandel if they’re as good as Station Eleven.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams & Straight White Male by John Niven (Book Reviews)

Here are two mega quick reviews of two books since I’m trying to review everything I’ve read this year before I make my end-of-year lists. Let’s have a look at this strange combo…

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

What It’s About: (via Amazon)
There is a long tradition of Great Detectives, and Dirk Gently does not belong to it. But his search for a missing cat uncovers a ghost, a time traveler, AND the devastating secret of humankind! Detective Gently’s bill for saving the human race from extinction: NO CHARGE.

My Thoughts:

My absolute favorite book of all-time is The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams. But I’ve never re-read it (I’m not a re-reader of books) and I’ve never read the rest in that series or anything else by Adams until this one. I know I really should read more of his work as, judging by the two I have read, I love his fabulous sense of humor and he was clearly clever as hell. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is NOT as utterly brilliant as Hitchhiker’s. However, it has the same style and wacky characters and was a lot of fun. Will I read more in this series (it’s a series, right?)? No, probably not but I’d love to re-read Hitchhiker’s now & maybe continue with those.

The crazy characters in this book are its selling point more than the actual story, which was at least certainly intriguing. I’m not sure why but I found this book to be very slow going at first & it took me a while to get into it (probably just because I’m not super smart & Adams was clearly all intellectual & shit). It picks up about halfway through, though, and I did enjoy the ending.

Okay – I’m seriously struggling with what to say as this is a very hard book to describe, especially to anyone who has never read anything by Adams. As I have so little experience with his work myself, I’m not going to ramble on like an idiot. I love all the little things thrown in, like the Electric Monk (a time-saving device of the future or, um, parallel dimension (?) that was created to believe all the things humans are meant to believe so that we no longer have to spend our own time worrying about such things…. Did I get that right?!). There’s a couch stuck on some stairs even though its being there is a scientific & mathematical impossibility, there’s a horse in a bathroom, there’s a ghost, there’s a dead cat, and there’s a lot of the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan. The main thing I got from this book is that I really want to read those poems now – they sounds nuts! Or maybe it’s just this book that’s nuts.

Anyway, I won’t pretend that I fully followed what was going on in this book but it was bizarrely entertaining. Read Hitchhiker’s first if you’ve never read Douglas Adams but, if you think sci-fi comedy is something you’d like, he’s definitely a must-read author. I need to read more myself and I happily will. Does anyone have any science fiction comedy recommendations? (I actually have another sci-fi comedy one for you – I loved George R.R. Martin’s Tuf Voyaging, which I reviewed HERE. I need to explore this genre more as I really enjoy it).

My Rating: 3/5

Straight White Male by John Niven

What It’s About: (via Goodreads):

Kennedy Marr is a novelist from the old school. Irish, acerbic, and a borderline alcoholic and sex-addict, his mantra is drink hard, write hard and try to screw every woman you meet.

He’s writing film scripts in LA, fucking, drinking and insulting his way through Californian society, but also suffering from writer’s block and unpaid taxes. Then a solution presents itself – Marr is to be the unlikely recipient of the W. F. Bingham Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Modern Literature, an award worth half a million pounds. But it does not come without a price: he must spend a year teaching at the English university where his ex-wife and estranged daughter now reside.

As Kennedy acclimatises to the sleepy campus, inspiring revulsion and worship in equal measure, he’s forced to reconsider his precarious lifestyle. Incredible as it may seem, there might actually be a father and a teacher lurking inside this ‘preening, narcissistic, priapic, sociopath’. Or is there…?

My Thoughts:

This book won’t be for everyone. I find it hard to read a book with a truly hateful lead character and you can’t get much more hateful than this book’s Kennedy Marr. He’s the exact definition of the type of prick I absolutely cannot stand and would avoid at all costs in real life. However, it’s a well-written and at times very funny book. The character arc is fairly believable (we don’t get a MASSIVE change, which is good as it would go too against character) but he somewhat redeems himself.

I know John Niven wrote Kill Your Friends, a similar sort of story set within the music industry as opposed to the literary world and I’d possibly find that one a little more entertaining due to its setting. I wouldn’t totally avoid another book of his but I also wouldn’t hurry to read another. I didn’t hate Straight White Male but didn’t actively enjoy it either since I really didn’t care what would become of Kennedy Marr and his dick, the one true love of his life. I admit, though, that his masturbatory adventures were highly amusing. Do guys actually go to that much trouble when doing that?? Put that much effort into something else instead & maybe something good will happen! World peace? Well, now that I’ve used the phrase “masturbatory adventures” on my blog, I think I’ll just declare this post finished & give this book a rating. I’m spent.

My Rating: 2.5/5

This song kept popping into my head while reading the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poems in Dirk Gently!

Mr Mercedes by Stephen King (Book Review)

Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

What It’s About: (via Amazon)
The stolen Mercedes emerges from the pre-dawn fog and plows through a crowd of men and women on line for a job fair in a distressed American city. Then the lone driver backs up, charges again, and speeds off, leaving eight dead and more wounded. The case goes unsolved and ex-cop Bill Hodges is out of hope when he gets a letter from a man who loved the feel of death under the Mercedes’s wheels…

My Thoughts:

Mr Mercedes was a very enjoyable read but I have to say that, for some reason, it didn’t exactly feel like a Stephen King book to me. I do always prefer when King’s books stick more to the strange & supernatural stuff as “crime” fiction really isn’t my thing. However, this was a quick and thoroughly entertaining read with some of the most likable characters he’s ever written so I definitely plan to read the remaining two very soon.

This was just, in a way, a far less intense novel than most of his other weighty tomes. King is and always will be my favorite author so I don’t mean this in a bad way but I have to be in the right mood to start his novels as they’re such a huge commitment & tend to leave you emotionally exhausted by the end of them. Actually, that’s a good thing – it shows what a talented writer he is! But Mr Mercedes almost felt more like a light read along the lines of authors such as Dean Koontz. Don’t get me wrong – I have a weird & frustrating love of Koontz books but you always know what you’ll get from them: likable characters, predictable but fun stories (usually with a supernatural twist), and more often than not a “happily ever after” ending.

Mr Mercedes is still much darker & less predictable than a Koontz book but King has certainly written these characters in a different fashion than usual. I really liked that – the characters are memorable & easily some of my King favorites. They’ll work fantastically in a TV/film adaptation (is one still going ahead after the tragic death of Anton Yelchin? He’d have been great as Mr Mercedes). Okay – I guess I can just Google that myself! Looks like this will be a 2018 mini-series & Yelchin has been replaced by Honeymoon’s Harry Treadaway.

The central character (and star of this series of books, so he clearly survives the first two at least) is retired cop Bill Hodges. The Mercedes Killer case was never solved & still haunts him after his retirement and blah blah blah – your usual retired cop story setup. Very mainstream for King! When he receives a letter from the killer, he decides to do his own investigation without getting the police involved. The one & only thing that bothered me in this story is that he secretly works on the case with a friend of his – a teenage neighbor boy who helps him with his computer & mowing his lawn. I thought that was putting the boy in too much danger, though Hodges was always mindful of trying to keep him safe. I won’t get into spoilers too much but there are two female characters that worked really well, including one that really grows on you by the end. As for the baddie, he’s a psycho but not totally over-the-top, which often annoys me (like Negan in The Walking Dead at the moment. Okay – you’re a bad guy. We get it!). Damn – Yelchin would’ve been fantastic playing this character.

Well, I won’t say much more about the plot for those who haven’t read this yet. This is a King novel I’d recommend to those who aren’t necessarily fans of his as well as those who are. It’s a pretty straightforward crime thriller that should make for a very good mini-series. People love the retired cop crime story thing so I would think it’ll be more successful than Under The Dome, which even I got bored with & didn’t finish. I watch all King-related stuff! But Under The Dome was one of very few King books that I really didn’t like very much, due to there being so many disgustingly hateful characters. I want to like a book’s characters, so it was great to get that from Mr Mercedes. They may (so far) be a little less complex than some of King’s other characters but I’ll happily read more stories involving this unconventional group of friends & crime investigators.

My Rating: 4/5

Revival by Stephen King (Book Review)

*I’m taking it easier on blogging so am re-posting some mini book reviews I did in one long post HERE at the start of this year. Here’s my mini-review of Revival by Stephen King…

Revival by Stephen King

What It’s About: (from StephenKing.com)

In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs. Jacobs; the women and girls feel the same about Reverend Jacobs—including Jamie’s mother and beloved sister, Claire. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond based on a secret obsession. When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of 13, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family’s horrific loss. In his mid-thirties—addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate—Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that “revival” has many meanings.

My Thoughts:

Stephen King is and always will be my favorite author so I’m going to put a book of his fairly high on any list (I ranked it 5th on my list HERE of the 14 books I read in 2015). I’ll say that this isn’t one of his best (it probably ranks somewhere in the lower middle for me if I were to do a list of all the King books I’ve read).

I find that I’m quite often a little disappointed with how King’s books end and this one has the same problem of starting out great but then kind of fizzling out at the end.

However, King once again draws a very detailed picture of small town American life which I can always relate to in his books and what makes me love his work so much. I was very much drawn into this small town where a young boy and tragic preacher reside. I just wish these two main characters had remained as interesting in the second half of the book as they grew older (the book spans many years).

Well, I enjoyed it anyway – read it if you love King. I enjoyed it more than his son Joe Hill’s book NOS4A2, which I read at the same sort of time, but will admit that Hill’s book was probably actually a little better than this one. *Note to add: I’ve read even more Hill books now and he’s great! But I still love his father’s books more and likely always will…

My Rating: 3.5/5

Note to add: I’ve also done a new review of King’s Mr Mercedes, which I read recently. I’ll be posting that tomorrow. 

The Death Cure by James Dashner (Book Review)

I’ve finished reading the Maze Runner trilogy so I’ll do a short review of the final book: The Death Cure. I did a full-length double review of the first two books, The Maze Runner & The Scorch Trials, HERE. To be honest, I’ll only really be saying the exact same things again so I’ll keep this post brief. Let’s talk about The Death Cure

The Death Cure by James Dashner

What It’s About: (via The Maze Runner Wiki)
It’s the end of the line. WICKED has taken everything from Thomas: his life, his memories, and now his only friends—the Gladers. But it’s finally over. The trials are complete, after one final test. Will anyone survive? What WICKED doesn’t know is that Thomas remembers far more than they think. And it’s enough to prove that he can’t believe a word of what they say. The truth will be terrifying. Thomas beat the Maze. He survived the Scorch. He’ll risk anything to save his friends. But the truth might be what ends it all. The time for lies is over.

My Thoughts:

I love apocalyptic and/or dystopian books and I’ll happily read any YA books as long as they’re halfway decent. I’m very “must read the book before seeing the film!” but did it the other way around this time after seeing & really liking the first The Maze Runner movie. I then ended up quite disappointed with the first book. Yep – this is one time where I’ll say the movie was much better than the book! It managed to flesh out the characters & make them far more likable. Then I read The Scorch Trials & liked it a fraction more than the first book (until it totally went to shit at the end). Then I read The Death Cure. Then I watched The Scorch Trials movie (I’m all ass-backwards!). Oh. My. God. What in the HELL was up with The Scorch Trials film “adaptation”??? Did they read the book at all?!? (I’ll review/bitch about that movie tomorrow).

What am I even talking about? I’m so confused. Oh! The Death Cure. The final book. Well, except for a prequel, I think? Which I won’t be bothering to read. All I can say is that the third book is like the others in the trilogy, written in the same weird style and feeling like it’s being made up as it goes along. Looking at my reviews of the others, I see I threatened to throw this book out the window if it didn’t give answers & come to a satisfying conclusion. I’m happy to say that this book does come to a proper conclusion. There’s no cliffhanger or teasers of more to be added to the story. Hallelujah! I was worried that I was being strung along this whole time.

Am I happy with the ending? Meh – it was okay. I think I’m mainly annoyed that YA books of this genre all feel the need to be an entire series of books. I suppose it’s to milk as much money as possible out of its young audience but it’s getting old & tired now (like me!). Weird writing style aside, this was an enjoyable enough story overall that I think I’d have appreciated far more if it had been edited down into one book. I stand by my opinion that the first film is quite good and the story was intriguing enough to make me seek out the books but the second film is so awful that I have zero desire to see the final one(s?). As for the books, The Death Cure was my least favorite of the three but that’s not saying much – they’re all really the same thing. I feel bad saying this as I do respect anyone who is able to write a successful book and I believe in always reading the book before watching the film but, if you’re interested in this setup, I actually recommend going straight to the movies with these. It’s even possible I’d have liked the second film more if I hadn’t known that it doesn’t. follow. the. book. in. any. way. what. so. ever. What the hell…..?!

My Rating: 2.5/5 (same rating I gave the other two books)

The Shock Of The Fall by Nathan Filer (Book Review)

*I’m taking it easier on blogging so am re-posting some mini book reviews I did in one long post HERE at the start of this year. Here’s my mini-review of The Shock Of The Fall…

The Shock Of The Fall by Nathan Filer

What It’s About: (from the back cover)

I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.

My Thoughts:

My favorite books to read are always horror, sci-fi or fantasy but I do try to sometimes read bestsellers or ones that have awards slapped on their covers (like this one) which are probably bullshit half the time anyway. This is an example of a book that was pretty good and plenty of people probably liked it but it just didn’t really work for me. Oh! I also judge books by their covers and this has a good one plus I was intrigued by the back cover synopsis (above).

That synopsis sounds interesting, right? This is a book where you’ll easily find out what it’s about if you read anything whatsoever about it but if you like knowing nothing other than what’s on the back cover, skip over this next part….
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SPOILER:

This book is about mental illness (schizophrenia) and told from the viewpoint of the young adult (Matt) who is suffering from it. It’s a fairly unique book & I’d recommend it if it sounds to you like one you’d like.

I have to say it’s actually a better book than some of the others that I ranked higher HERE on my list of books that I read in 2015. But, as always, I rank mainly by my level of enjoyment & I found myself not really wanting to pick this one up much so it took me quite a long time to finish.

My Rating: 3/5

Florence & Giles by John Harding (Book Review) 

*I’m taking a little blog break so am re-posting some mini book reviews I did in one long post HERE at the start of this year. Here’s my mini-review of Florence & Giles…

Florence & Giles by John Harding

What It’s About: (via Goodreads)

In 1891, in a remote and crumbling New England mansion, 12-year-old orphan Florence and her younger brother are neglected by her guardian uncle. Banned from reading, Florence devours books in secret and talks to herself—and narrates her story—in a unique language of her own invention. By night, she sleepwalks the corridors and is troubled by a recurrent dream in which a mysterious woman appears to threaten her younger brother Giles.

After the sudden violent death of the children’s first governess, a second teacher, Miss Taylor, arrives, and immediately strange phenomena begin to occur. Florence becomes convinced that the new governess is a malevolent spirit who means to do Giles harm. Against this powerful enemy, Florence must use all her intelligence and ingenuity to protect her little brother and preserve her private world.

My Thoughts:

I grabbed this from the library as I’d been wanting to read it for a while based on The Times quote on the front cover: “Imagine The Turn Of The Screw reworked by Edgar Allan Poe”. It sounded like it would be all gothic & atmospheric but it was pretty disappointing.

A young girl in the late 1800s must protect her younger brother from a sinister & otherworldly new governess after the mysterious death of the previous woman who cared for them. The girl (and narrator if I remember correctly??) isn’t allowed to read but teaches herself & reads loads of books in secret. It’s caused her to develop a strange sort of language of her own and having to read the book with all her odd words took some getting used to (and was slightly annoying).

The girl also isn’t that easy to like and the book is extremely slow until finally picking up in the final half. It was a good story but not a very fun read. I actually think it could make for a great film if the right people were involved.

My Rating: 2.5/5

The Unlikely Pilgrimmage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Book Review)

*I’m taking a little blog break so am re-posting some mini book reviews I did in one long post HERE at the start of this year. Here’s my REALLY mini mini-review of The Unlikely Pilgrimmage Of Harold Fry…

The Unlikely Pilgrimmage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

What It’s About: (via Goodreads)

Harold Fry is convinced that he must deliver a letter to an old friend in order to save her, meeting various characters along the way and reminiscing about the events of his past and people he has known, as he tries to find peace and acceptance.

My Thoughts:

Not to be all snobby as I certainly don’t read many “worthy” classics or anything but this looked like one of those supermarket books you see old ladies reading on the bus. Well, I suppose it kind of is but, screw it, I AM an old lady on a bus!

The basic story is simple: Retired Harold Fry decides to make a pilgrimage by foot across most of England to visit an old work colleague & friend named Queenie, who has written him to say that she is dying. It was a slow read to start but I was fairly hooked as Harold got closer & closer to reaching his destination.

As you may expect, Harold goes on a “journey of self-discovery” during his long walk and this was the best thing about the book and was handled quite well. Something becomes obvious pretty early on but it made me want to keep reading to find out exactly what happened & how.

My Rating: 3/5

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins (Book Review)

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

What It’s About: (via the back cover)

Every Day The Same. Until Today.

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens.

She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking, and in one moment everything changes.

Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.

Now they’ll see: she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

My Thoughts:

I pretty much hated this book. I’ve never read a book full of so many annoying & hateful characters! The characters in this made me almost like the people in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. I’d rather be friends with everyone in Gone Girl than with any of these self-absorbed assholes. Why was there so much hype over this book? Between the hype & knowing it was going to be made into a movie starring Emily Blunt (I love her), I was really excited to finally read this one. Ugh. I’m never listening to hype again.

Rachel is our main character, the girl on the train. This is who Emily Blunt will be playing and I hope they make this character a little less pathetic for the movie. It’ll break my heart to see Blunt go from playing someone so kick-ass in the excellent Edge Of Tomorrow to playing a woman who spends the entirety of this book drinking & moping around just because her husband left her. Okay, it’s sad to be dumped but I think this takes place a year or so later and you just want to scream at her “Get over it! Move on!“. You’d maybe feel sorry for Rachel if she didn’t end up being so hateful.

At least we get some other characters, right? Luckily, the book also spends quite a bit of time on the characters in the homes that Rachel can see from the train. Unfortunately, though, they’re just as hateful. One thing I really can’t stand are people who are completely self-absorbed & I think this is actually a huge disturbing trend in today’s society (thanks, Kardashithingies – I refuse to spell that name out as I don’t want it linked to my blog). Each character is so “me me me” and cares only if their actions have immediate consequences for themselves. The women are obsessed with themselves & with their men (or lack of men). The men, who are secondary characters, are so one-dimensional. I felt like both the men & the women were written as gender stereotypes and I’ve never been so completely unable to relate to anyone in a story.

So what about the story? It’s hard to get into the story at all since it revolves around a mystery and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone still wanting to read this or to watch the movie. I’ll say that the story is okay. I’ll even say that I was very into the mystery at first & read this book very quickly as I was so eager to find out what was going on. But it falls apart at the end & I wasn’t happy with the direction it took. Predictable & silly. One character also does something so horribly unforgivable & inexcusable, naïve or not, that I was actually quite angry at this being used as a plot device. If not for that one thing, I’d probably be a little more forgiving of the story.

I can’t help but compare this to Gone Girl as both were huge best sellers involving a mystery & similar sorts of characters. But Gone Girl, despite its faults, was actually very well-written and a far better book. You have to give a little bit of credit to The Girl On The Train for obviously being inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant Rear Window but, well, it’s certainly no Rear Window… Yikes. What an insult to Grace Kelly & Jimmy Stewart! Rachel is like the anti-Grace Kelly.

Hated Rachel. Hated Anna. Hated Megan. Hated the men whose names I can’t even remember as they were written as such shallow characters that I was insulted on behalf of men everywhere. But the story wasn’t the worst thing ever, I suppose. It moved along fairly quickly & would make for a good made-for-TV movie so the fact that it’s a big Hollywood movie with big stars must mean I’m missing something that everyone else isn’t. This book has very positive reviews all over the place online so, if it interests you, give it a go as my opinion seems to be an unpopular one. To be fair, this isn’t the type of book I normally go for so I may be slightly more negative because of that. I think I’ll just stick to horror, sci-fi & post-apocalyptic from now on.

My Rating: 2/5

*The film adaptation of The Girl On The Train comes out next week on the 5th of October if you’re interested… 

The End Of The World Running Club By Adrian J. Walker (Book Review)

The End Of The World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker

What It’s About: (via the back cover)

The Ultimate Race Against Time Thriller

When the world ends and you find yourself stranded on the wrong side of the country, every second counts.

No one knows that more than Edgar Hill. 550 miles away from his family, he must push himself to the very limit to get back to them, or risk losing them forever…

His best option is to run. But what if your best isn’t good enough?

My Thoughts:

I’ve been obsessed with all things apocalyptic for years now. I don’t know why that is but I think it possibly started when I was a kid & loved old episodes of The Twilight Zone where “the end of the world” was a common theme for a lot of episodes. I’ll read any book in this genre and would love recommendations from anyone who knows some good apocalyptic books. Any apocalypse will do! War, asteroids, zombies, disease, etc. I’m interested more in the setting of a post-apocalyptic world & it’s okay if we don’t necessarily know the cause of Earth’s near-demise (like in Hugh Howey’s book Wool – which reminds me that I need to continue reading that trilogy).

What I like most about this genre is seeing how the characters deal with extreme situations & how they interact with one another. Is humanity good or bad? Will people work together and try to re-build civilization or will there be a bunch of murderous psychos running around while the few remaining good people just try to survive? I like the character studies & social commentary often involved in this genre (which goes back to those old Twilight Zone episodes such as the brilliant The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street & The Shelter).

I wouldn’t say that The End Of The World Running Club is the deepest or the best book in this genre but it’s an entertaining story with good pacing and some strong characters. It explores the dark side of humanity a little bit but its main focus is on a small group of characters thrown together by this situation and, particularly, one man’s journey to “find himself” just as much as to find his family. That man is Edgar Hill & his wife, young daughter, and baby son are 550 miles away from him in England while he’s stranded in Edinburgh, Scotland. He has a limited amount of time to get to them (I won’t get into why to avoid spoilers) and the only way to do that in this post-apocalyptic scenario is to physically run to them. Shit – now I have Bryan Adams stuck in my head. Cause when the feelin’s right, I’m gonna run all night. I’m gonna run to you!

I’ll say that you do get to see the cause of the apocalypse as the story starts out just before & as it happens. You also get to see Edgar Hill & his family together, which I think is important as we needed that character development in order to care about whether or not they’re reunited. I won’t say exactly what happens but it’ll be obvious from the start that the family are together at first & then somehow separated.

The one main flaw with this book, for me, was that I wasn’t sure if I liked Edgar Hill all that much. From the very start, we are shown a man who isn’t very involved with the lives of his wife & children. Like most of us (okay – me included), he just drifts through life trying to survive one day at a time without truly caring about much. Go to work, come home, eat, sleep, repeat. He’s overweight & depressed. He does love his wife & kids but admits (in retrospect) how hard he found it to adjust to family life. This is all fine as the entire point of the book is that he’s on this journey physically as well as spiritually and the age old “it takes a tragedy to make you realize how important people are to you” and blah blah blah. I like that he’s flawed throughout the entire book, making his character much more realistic as suddenly becoming the perfect husband & father would feel fake. The problem is that Adrian J. Walker has written a few fantastic characters who go on this running journey with Edgar and I ended up liking & caring more about them than I really did about him. His personality is weak in comparison but I suppose that’s kind of the point as Edgar is meant to be the common man in a situation that requires him to try hard to achieve something for the first time in his life.

But that negativity aside, this book was a decently paced page-turner & I found myself finishing it very quickly as I wanted to find out what would happen. As I said, some of the characters on the journey with Edgar were very strong and I liked them a lot. I can easily picture each & every character in a movie adaptation if one gets made so Walker clearly did a good job developing them. I think, if done right, a movie adaptation could be even better than the book if they chose the right actors. And the right director, of course. Oh man, Frank Darabont could make this into an absolutely brilliant movie! Maybe someone reading this can make this happen like when I said while reading Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children that Tim Burton should adapt it. I know what I’m talking about with this kind of stuff! I’d really like to see these characters brought to life on screen, especially Bryce, Grimes & Harvey. Someone make this movie happen! If you can get Darabont, I’ll help with casting. 😉

My Rating: 3.5/5

The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (Book Review) 

The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

I absolutely love Stephen King’s short story collections. The very first thing I ever read of King’s was Night Shift when I was in Junior High and it blew me away. I went from reading YA Christopher Pike books straight to Stephen King thanks to Night Shift turning me into a huge fan. My first proper “grown-up” book! It’s funny how memory works – I remember every single story in Night Shift as if I only read it yesterday (I only read the book that one time well over 20 years ago) whereas I struggle to remember the short stories in his collections from recent years.

I do think Night Shift happened to be a fantastic book and maybe it was a little better than collections from recent years but I can’t say for sure – I do just have a scarily weird memory for things from my youth but can’t even remember what I had for supper last night. Ah, old age sucks! (Oh yeah – it was a burger…)

I did really enjoy The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams (as I do all of his short story collections). I read it a while ago so I better write a little something about the stories now as my memory is already getting hazy. I do think it had some stronger stories than his previous few collections.

My Quick Thoughts On Each Story:

Mile 81:

Not my favorite in the book but a fun read and SO very “King”. What is it with him & murderous vehicles? Some of this collection consists of previously published material so I didn’t have to re-read this one as it’s the first thing I read on my brand new Kindle years ago when I still knew how to use that thing. Old age, again! I should see if I can figure out how to even turn it on again. Speaking of Kindles, Ur was one of my favorite stories in this book. I’ll talk about that later (I’ll do these in the order they appear in the book).

Premium Harmony:

This story wasn’t a favorite but it’s one of those that has that special way of sticking in my mind that I only really get with King’s writing style & it’s why I’m such a big fan. It’s not a horror story & he’s written it after reading a lot of books from another author (Raymond Carver, an author I don’t know) and King says it has a Carver feel to it. Oh – there’s a King intro to each story, by the way. I really like when he does those.

Batman And Robin Have An Altercation:

I found this to be a pretty heartbreaking story about a son & his elderly father (with Alzheimer’s?). As always, King writes such rich characters, even in his short stories.

The Dune:

One of my favorites in the collection, this very short story deals with a tiny island where prophetic messages appear in the sand. King writes excellent stories even when he steps outside the horror genre but my favorites will always be the ones that contain anything supernatural.

Bad Little Kid:

That little kid was creepy as hell. This was a fun story – I think it would make a good adaptation to screen somehow. I really wish they’d do more of his short stories as TV adaptations, like they did with Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

A Death:

I couldn’t remember this one & had to refresh my memory by skimming it just now. I didn’t like this one, but I suppose I liked the ending which has somewhat of a twist.

The Bone Church:

I wasn’t a fan of this either, which was written in the style of a poem. I think. I’ve never been into poetry at all. I suppose that means I have no class. Can anyone tell me how “There once was a man from Nantucket” ends, though?? I’ve always wanted to know that.

Morality:

A weird story with people who are pretty hard to like. But I suppose that’s the entire point. Again, not a favorite & I found it a bit too long.

Afterlife:

I had to refresh my memory on this one as well, although it was a good story. One with a great idea behind it but, for whatever reason, it didn’t fully connect with me.

Ur:

I liked this horror story about a Kindle a lot – it’s one of my favorites in this book. Only Stephen King could write a scary story about a Kindle, for crying out loud. And it works really well. That damn Kindle gave me the creeps! Maybe I don’t want to get mine working again after all.

Herman Wouk Is Still Alive:

Another pretty heartbreaking story that feels too “real” for my liking. King is so good at capturing human nature & the sort of every day tragedies that we all read about in the news but I read for escapism and, like I said, I’m happier when he sticks to the strange & supernatural. I get enough “real life” in real life.

Under The Weather:

Another absolutely heartbreaking “real life” sort of story. But it’s so good & such a well-written story that I did like it (and, again, it would make a good TV adaptation). The end is extremely obvious from early on if you’ve read enough stories but it was still heartbreaking & kept me wanting to read to see how he’d handle the ending.

Blockade Billy:

I wasn’t really a fan of this one. The story is about a baseball player & it’s an okay story but still has too much baseball talk for my liking.

Mister Yummy:

An okay story but not the best. King explores mortality so often & this is yet another one with this theme. He’s done far better stories dealing with this topic – this one is fairly forgettable.

Tommy:

This was an interesting story of a hippie who died in 1969. King doesn’t give much detail in his intro but alludes to the fact that it’s somewhat based on someone he knew? It’s a well-written piece & evokes a 60’s mood that I really liked.

The Little Green God Of Agony:

Yet another so very “King” tale. It’s a bit bizarre & something that only his mind could come up with. He says in the intro that he wrote it several years after being hit by that van, once the worst of his pain was gone. I knew that accident was pretty bad but didn’t realize quite how badly he was hurt. Anyway, I enjoyed this story & its typical King weirdness.

That Bus Is Another World:

A pretty simple story that, once again, explores human nature & morality. A good story but probably not one I’ll remember years from now. Was hoping for more of a supernatural twist with that title.

Obits:

A good story with a great concept. Not the best in the book but one of the strongest ideas. Another one that would make a great adaptation for the small screen.

Drunken Fireworks:

I really liked this story. The thing that King always does best is capture small town American life (usually in Maine – I’m too lazy to see if that’s where this was set too but I assume so). The characters are great & feel like people I grew up with in my own small American town. Probably not the best story in the book but, if it’s the type you can relate to, it’s probably a favorite for some readers. Would probably just squeak into my top five in this collection (I’m not gonna be sad enough to rank these. Well, maybe…).

Summer Thunder:

The final story in the book & definitely one of my favorites. It was the perfect story to end the book as it’s a post-apocalyptic tale. I don’t know why I have such an obsession with this genre – I think it’s because any sort of apocalypse is a genuine fear I’ve had since a young age. Anyway, I thought this was a strong story for its very short length.

My Overall Rating For The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams: 4/5

Okay, I’m gonna choose my five favorites. Hmm… Here are My Top Five Stories (in book appearance order):

The Dune
Ur
Under The Weather
Drunken Fireworks
Summer Thunder

Honorable Mention: The Little Green God Of Agony

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (Book Review)

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

What It’s About: (via Amazon)
Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals… a used hangman’s noose… a snuff film. An aging death-metal rock god, his taste for the unnatural is as widely known to his legions of fans as the notorious excesses of his youth. But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as his latest purchase, an item he discovered on the Internet:

I will sell my stepfather’s ghost to the highest bidder…

For a thousand dollars, Jude has become the owner of a dead man’s suit, said to be haunted by a restless spirit. But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no metaphorical ghost, no benign conversation piece. Suddenly the suit’s previous owner is everywhere: behind the bedroom door… seated in Jude’s restored Mustang… staring out from his widescreen TV. Waiting with a gleaming razor blade on a chain dangling from one hand…

My Thoughts:

This book got third place in my poll asking which book I should read next (I reviewed Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere HERE & Terry Pratchett’s The Colour Of Magic HERE).

This is now the third Joe Hill book I’ve read and I’d say I’m definitely a fan & will continue to read all of his books. I love the sound of his book The Fireman – that’ll be going on my Christmas list this year (hint hint, hubby?). I’d have to say that both NOS4A2 & Horns are better than Heart-Shaped Box (I reviewed both of those books HERE) but this one was still an enjoyable read and I liked it more than NOS4A2.

The thing that worked for me the most was probably the fact that its main character is an aging metal dude. I love metal & I love metal DUDES! I think, deep down, I want to be one. In my next life, maybe I’ll be the next Ozzy Osbourne or something. There were some fun rock references thrown into the book here & there but it could’ve done with more of these. Judas Coyne is a great name for the character & Hill does well to make him a believeable old metal guy. I mean, he’s kind of a dick at first but that’s what you’d expect. This book didn’t have the same problem as NOS4A2, though, in that I didn’t really like or care about the characters very much in that one. This is a shorter book with a far more simple ghost story but I think that helped to give us more time to get to know Coyne, which is why I enjoyed this book more as I love good character development. The story is obviously important but, if it gives me characters I don’t care about, it then feels like a waste of my time.

As far as being scary, I can’t say that this one creeped me out but it’s rare that a book really does that to me anyway. It started out good but I found it less scary as the book went on. I think there was a bit too much of the ghost plus he was more creepy and mysterious at the beginning when we knew less about him. I don’t have any big complaints about the book but there was one element in the story that I would’ve liked left out. I found the conclusion okay, though, so that was good as I find that a lot of horror stories don’t seem to know how to end.

Heart-Shaped Box did take a while to get going & at one point early on I wondered how Hill would fill a whole book with a basic “haunting”. I liked the direction the story later took, though, and I finished the second half of the book very quickly as I was eager to know what would happen. It’s just a shame that the second half of the book, which was more “exciting”, didn’t manage to also maintain the same sort of eeriness we had in the first part of the book.

I do think Hill stands on his own as a very good modern horror author but he will always be compared to his father and I’m sure he knows that & is used to it by now. I have to say that I’ve enjoyed his books so far but none have quite lived up to Stephen King’s books for me. I have yet to find the worlds created by Hill as fully immersive as those in his father’s books but I’d say that of most authors anyway so it’s unfortunate that he’ll always be compared to King. Compared to authors other than King, Hill is a new favorite of mine. One of these days, I’ll really love one of his books. I know it! I look forward to reading The Fireman to see if it’s the one. For now, I’m happy to just casually date his books. No being invited in “for coffee” yet!

My Rating: 3.5/5

The Colour Of Magic by Terry Pratchett (Book Review)

The Colour Of Magic by Terry Pratchett (the first novel in the Discworld series)

What It’s About: (via Amazon)
Imagine, if you will . . .

a flat world sitting on the backs of four elephants who hurtle through space balanced on a giant turtle. In truth, the Discworld is not so different from our own. Yet, at the same time, very different . . . but not so much.

In this, the maiden voyage through Terry Pratchett’s divinely and recognizably twisted alternate dimension, the well-meaning but remarkably inept wizard Rincewind encounters something hitherto unknown in the Discworld: a tourist! Twoflower has arrived, Luggage by his side, to take in the sights and, unfortunately, has cast his lot with a most inappropriate tour guide—a decision that could result in Twoflower’s becoming not only Discworld’s first visitor from elsewhere . . . but quite possibly, portentously, its very last. And, of course, he’s brought Luggage along, which has a mind of its own. And teeth.

My Thoughts:

This book got second place in my poll asking which book I should read next (I reviewed the winner, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, HERE). I really liked The Colour Of Magic! I far preferred it to Neverwhere. This is my very first Terry Pratchett book – I’d been wanting to check his stuff out for a long time but really didn’t know where to start. Maybe I was too ambitious in deciding to start with the first Discworld novel… I didn’t know there were 41 in the series!  Maybe I’ll read one each year. Yep, that’s my new goal. And if I make it to book 41, it’ll mean I’ve lived to a pretty ripe old age! 

This book, published in 1983, is a comic fantasy. I’m a big fan of the fantasy of The Lord Of The Rings novels and my all-time favorite book is comic sci-fi (The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy) so checking out a comic fantasy really appealed to me. It isn’t laugh-out-loud funny like Hitchhiker’s but I loved the subtle humor. The characters of the pessimistic only-knows-one-spell wizard Rincewind and the childlike & always optimistic tourist Twoflower are fantastic and work so well together. I hope they’re together in a lot of the other books? I see only some are “Rincewind” tales. Then, of course, there’s Twoflower’s violent & overprotective chest of luggage and his strange talking camera. 

This bizarre cast of characters, along with the many more they meet on their journey, are what truly make this book so hugely enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong – the story is fun but even the best story won’t hold my interest if the characters are dull. It’s not a very long book but the characters are so richly developed that I know, even if I take some time in getting to the next book, that I’ll easily remember the small details & characteristics of even the lesser people, animals, creatures & anthropomorphic furniture we only meet very briefly. Rincewind is the most straightforward & least bizarre of those in the book but he’s also the very best – he’s one of those characters you feel like you actually know after reading the book. This may only be my first Pratchett novel but I can already see why his books are so popular. I’m certainly eager to read more Rincewind tales and also to meet other crazy characters created in the mind of Terry Pratchett. 

My Rating: 4/5

Sweet Valley High Covers Artist Takes Commissions

OMG I was obsessed with Sweet Valley High as a pre-teen in the Eighties!

I saw this the other day & just had to share it here too. James L Mathewuse, the artist who did over 250 Sweet Valley High covers, takes commissions! I want to be painted like one of the Wakefield twins!!!!

Seriously, though – you can view the artist’s site HERE and a good article about it all HERE. But now I need to reminisce…

Yeah, I read the above three books. I think I stopped at book number thirty-something (I did outgrow them eventually). I wrote to Francine Pascal, the creator of the series, when I was about 12. This was for a school project, okay?? I wasn’t quite nerdy enough to write fan letters in my spare time. 😉 I thought it was really cool when I got sent an audio tape of the first book, though.

I’ve had a lot of fun just now Googling images of the original cover art. It’s shocking how they all came back to me as I looked at the covers! I can remember my favorites based on the artwork. Double Love, Playing With Fire, Power Play, Kidnapped! Those were awesome. How embarrassing… I was briefly very girly.

After Sweet Valley High, I moved onto YA “horror” instead. Christopher Pike’s books were my favorites. Remember Me, Chain Letter, Spellbound… This kind of thing was way more “me” (and my gateway to Stephen King). I really wish I still had those books with their original artwork – I’d love to be able to pass those on. Hell, I’d probably read all the Christopher Pike books again to see if I still thought they were great or if they can only truly be enjoyed by Young Adults.

I’ll shut up now. But I’d love to hear from other Sweet Valley High or Christopher Pike lovers! Jessica was such a bitch, though. I always identified more with Elizabeth. 😉

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (Book Review)

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

What It’s About: (via Amazon)
Richard Mayhew is a plain man with a good heart — and an ordinary life that is changed forever on a day he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. From that moment forward he is propelled into a world he never dreamed existed — a dark subculture flourishing in abandoned subway stations and sewer tunnels below the city — a world far stranger and more dangerous than the only one he has ever known…

My Thoughts:

This book was the winner when I asked all of you in this poll HERE which book I should read next. I’ll try to read them all in order according to how many votes they have. I’m now also almost done reading the one in second place (Terry Pratchett’s The Colour Of Magic).

Neverwhere is my first Neil Gaiman book. I really do like fantasy novels (and sci-fi) but never really explore those genres as I mostly stick to Stephen King. Easy option that rarely lets me down! I liked Neverwhere. I didn’t love it and I probably won’t rush out & read another Gaiman book based on this one but I’d still read more of his work at some point. I was completely unaware that it was a BBC mini-series first but that they had to leave things out of the show & change things so Gaiman released the original story exactly how he wanted it. I want to see the show now! Although I don’t know anyone in it other than Peter Capaldi…

Actually, I’ve changed my mind – after looking up images from the show, it looks a little dodgy. But back to the book!

The thing the book does best is make some memorable characters. The main character, Richard Mayhew, is so stereotypically British. He reminded me of when Hugh Grant would so often play a charmingly awkward pushover in annoying rom-coms (back in those days when he was dating Liz Hurley & just before he was caught with a hooker). Well, I hated those Hugh Grant characters… Mayhew is more likeable than that. I liked the story of the girl he helps, a character named Door from a bizarre sort of alternate reality in the sewers & subways of London. She has a unique power that I’d have liked to read even more about. There could easily be a prequel to this involving the history of her family & their special gift.

There are many odd characters throughout the story (not to mention the rats, who are an important part of this other reality). There are the Rat-Speakers who can talk to the rats, a pretty kick-ass female bodyguard who would probably be my favorite character in a movie of this if played by the right person, two very dangerous assassins, the Marquis de Carabas, and plenty more I won’t mention to keep some surprises in case any of you want to read this. I did like the clever use of London subway & borough names in developing various characters’ roles in the story.

The most interesting character by far, though, was the Marquis de Carabas. He helps Mayhew & Door on their journey (or does he??). He’s mysterious & suave and you’re not sure if he can be trusted or not. He’d also be awesome in a movie! They really should make this into a movie with a decent budget (the images from the BBC show really do look pretty dodgy). I bought a short story along with this book called How The Marquis Got His Coat Back, which tells an additional story within the time period of this book, and I enjoyed that just as much as the full novel. Gaiman could easily do a spin-off series of Marquis de Carabas stories.

Overall, though, I didn’t quite buy into this story & its world in the way I was hoping that I would. The characters were fun & Gaiman has a great imagination but I didn’t find myself wanting to pick this one up & continue reading it all that often. It really is a world that could be further explored in more books & short stories as there’s a load of potential there. Even the most minor characters’ life stories would make for their own entertaining spin-offs. I can’t really put my finger on why this one didn’t quite work for me as I think all the right elements seem to be there for this to be a book I really love. I can say that I’m thoroughly enjoying Terry Pratchett’s The Colour Of Magic, though, and know I’ll be reading another Pratchett before another Gaiman. Oh well. I’ll read another novel by Neil Gaiman at some point and will happily take recommendations of other books he’s written. I suppose I should read the book he did with Pratchett! 🙂

My Rating: 3.5/5

Tuf Voyaging by George R.R. Martin (Book Review)

At the end of the year, I did a post with mini-reviews of every book I read in 2015. I’m re-posting & adding to those short reviews of some of my favorites. Tuf Voyaging, my first George R.R. Martin book, was a close third-favorite after Ready Player One & The Martian. Here’s my updated review:

Tuf Voyaging by George R.R. Martin

What It’s About: (via Wikipedia)
Tuf Voyaging is a 1986 science fiction fix-up novel. It is a darkly comic meditation on environmentalism and absolute power. The novel concerns the (mis)adventures of Haviland Tuf, an exceptionally tall, bald, very pale, overweight, phlegmatic, vegetarian, cat-loving but otherwise solitary space trader. Due to the venality and cutthroat tactics of the party chartering his one-man trading vessel, Tuf inadvertently becomes master of Ark, an ancient, 30-kilometer-long “seedship”, a very powerful warship with advanced ecological engineering capabilities. Tuf travels the galaxy, offering his services to worlds with environmental problems, and sometimes imposing solutions of his own.

My Thoughts:

This is the first and only George R.R. Martin book I’ve ever read and I loved it! I got the Game Of Thrones book for Christmas 2014 but haven’t yet had the energy to embark on that massive journey. So when a woman I work with brought in a bunch of books that she was getting rid of, I was excited to see this standalone Martin book so I could see what his work was like.

I can only compare this to the Game Of Thrones TV show but I’d have to say it’s quite different from that. This is sci-fi comedy! I’ve read very few books in this genre but one happens to be my all-time favorite book (The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy) so this one was perfect for me and I enjoyed it immensely.

I’ll say that, although Martin’s books are clearly popular, I had no idea of what a great writer this guy really is and it has me definitely wanting to read more of his stuff. I’ll also admit this: I’m a casual reader & clearly like light & easy entertainment. My vocabulary is limited (as evidenced by my so-called “reviews” 😉 ) and I’ve never had to look up so many words for their definitions while reading a book as I did while reading this. (Not tons, maybe six or seven words). But that’s awesome – I don’t have to do that with my YA books!

Martin truly has a great way with words and his characters (especially Tuf) felt so alive. And it was actually funny! After watching Game Of Thrones, full of so much tragic death, I wasn’t sure what to expect of a sci-fi comedy from the same author. Plus the story itself had me hooked. Loved it. Can anyone recommend any of his other work?

More Thoughts On Tuf Voyaging:

That was all my initial mini-review but I’ve read up on this book a bit now & would like to add a little more. First of all, I had to look up what a “fix-up” novel was. Ah HA! This book is actually a collection of previously published stories about Haviland Tuf (and his voyages) all brought together into one novel. That makes sense as, yes, it’s a series of several stories involving the character of Tuf but it didn’t feel at all weird while reading it as they all tie together nicely. I actually really liked that there were several stories, meaning that everyone reading it will have different favorites. Luckily, what I liked most was a story they kept coming back to as it had the strongest character (other than Haviland Tuf) and it was fun to watch their relationship develop. 

Speaking of Haviland Tuf, he’s such a well-developed character and I can still picture exactly how I saw him in my mind. He reminded me of how strong the characters are in the Game Of Thrones TV show so apparently Martin is fantastic when it comes to character development. Tuf changes quite a bit through the novel but his odd quirks (and love for his cats and no one else) were a lot fun. I found it funny to read the following tidbit at Wikipedia as this Game Of Thrones actor was indeed the EXACT person I pictured the entire time I was reading Tuf Voyaging:

“In a February 2013 post, Martin wrote on his website that, from time to time, he is asked by fans about writing more Tuf stories; he continued, saying that he hopes to do so again someday. He also hinted that he thought Irish actor Conleth Hill, who plays Varys on HBO’s Game of Thrones, based on his bestselling A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, would be a good choice to play Tuf for a pay cable TV series.”

I’d love to see this made into a TV series! And the guy playing Varys is the perfect choice. 🙂

Well, I struggle with book reviews so I probably haven’t done this justice but I do hope some of you will check this one out if it sounds like the sort of genre that interests you. It’s not a book I’d go around recommending to everyone as it wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. It’s a little silly & bizarre at times but that’s why it was so enjoyable. Plus, it’s hard to not like Haviland Tuf by the end even though he’s truly awkward when it comes to interacting with people. It touches on some quite deep themes so it’s not as silly as it seems on the surface but it was nice to get a break from all the dreariness in Game Of Thrones

My Rating: 4.5/5