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May 2017

‘After Supper Ghost Stories’ Jerome K. Jerome

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As they relax after dinner on Christmas Eve, the members of a family and their guests turn to telling ghost stories. These ghoulish accounts range from the melancholy to the macabre, and get increasingly bizarre as the ghosts leap out of the tales and make an appearance in the family’s home. Fact and fiction, the real and unreal collide, until the reader is not sure who is haunting whom.A masterful work of comic horror, Jerome K. Jerome’s After-Supper Ghost Stories is a witty look at why Christmas Eve is so perfect for ghost stories and why ghosts love the Yuletide season.

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I found the cover for the Alma Classics edition of After Supper Ghost Stories enticing. With its off-white swirls and flourishes upon a simple black background, it screamed “Intense, melodramatic, Gothic Victorian literature”, something akin to Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. 

Well, After Supper Ghost Stories –  which is an anthology that takes its title from the longest story among its pages – is melodramatic and it’s certainly Victorian, having first been published in 1891, but it’s a far cry from the Gothic style so popular during the 19th century.

Jerome (whose first name was apparently also his surname. Weird, right?) strikes me as something of a forward thinker. When we think of British Victorian gentlemen, we think of cigars and a stiff upper lip and all that jazz, but Jerome’s written style is quite informal. While reading stories such as Evergreens, Clocks and Tea Kettles, it put me in mind of a stand up comedian. I could just picture Jerome (pictured below) stood upon a stage, a glass of port in one hand, a pipe in the other, bantering with an ever-chuckling audience, his wit and sarcasm shining through his words.

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Each of his stories is quite satirical in nature. After Supper Ghost Stories, for example, is a parody of the traditional ghost story, with all the stereotyped characters you find in any spooky tale, modern or classic. There’s the ‘skeptic’, the one who doesn’t believe in the haunting and tries to disprove their peers’ claims by sleeping in the haunted bedroom. There’s the ‘plucky’ character, the one who decides to investigate the ghostly happenings alone and so on and so on. The satirical nature of the stories made for an amusing read, but that was about it.

The anthology as a whole was mildly amusing and there were some interesting ideas. For example, I found The New Utopia to be a fascinating exploration into how easily a utopia can morph into a dystopia and how a true utopia would be impossible to achieve. One of my favourite instances of Jerome’s dry-humoured observations on the hypocrisy of Victorian society occurred within this story. There’s a scene where a group of would-be philosophers are talking about how class divides should be abolished, rendering everyone equal, and one of the philosophers, in the same breath, orders for their waiter to bring “green chartreuse and more cigars”. This single line, though simple, is a scathing criticism on the hypocrisy of upper class Victorian citizens who, for want of a better phrase, were all bark but no bite, who had all these idealistic notions but were reluctant to implement them.

However, this collection of stories failed to keep my overall interest. Aside from the titular story and The New Utopia, I found the stories were not so much stories, but more ramblings that would go off on confusing, seemingly unrelated tangents. I can appreciate how Jerome’s work has stood the test of time – he was definitely a talented writer – but his work just isn’t for me, I’m afraid.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Song: Not so much a song, but this is pretty much the sound of my mind wandering while trying to focus on this book.

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This book is available to buy on Amazon in both paperback and e-reader format.

A Cup of Tea and a Chinwag with Jazz; Episode 4, ‘The Dystopian Dream’

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Why, as a society, are we fixated with dystopian fiction? In today’s episode, I attempt (attempt being the appropriate word) to answer this question. You can check out ten minutes of me rambling here.

A question for you more experienced book bloggers

I have a problem.

I dish out more 5s than there are stars in the night sky when I’m reviewing books.

It’s something I’m becoming increasingly conscious of because of my stupid little GIF system. If you scroll down my blog, it’s just Rapunzel, Rapunzel and more Rapunzel.

I don’t know if I’m too easily impressed, or if I just have an amazingly good taste in books, but I feel like I’m being too liberal with my 5s. I want people to take me seriously as a reviewer and not just think “Oh that silly Jazz, she does love her 5 star ratings!”

I mean, I give a book 5 stars when I genuinely feel it deserves it, but I’m wondering if I’m not critiquing books as thoroughly as other book bloggers do?

My question for you guys is: What criteria do you judge a book by? How do you decide what rating to give it? 

 

‘Misery’ Stephen King

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Misery Chastain was dead. Paul Sheldon had just killed her – with relief, with joy. Misery had made him rich; she was the heroine of a string of bestsellers. And now he wanted to get on to some real writing.

That’s when the car accident happened, and he woke up in pain in a strange bed. But it wasn’t the hospital. Annie Wilkes had pulled him from the wreck, brought him to her remote mountain home, splinted and set his mangled legs.

The good news was that Annie was a nurse and has pain-killing drugs. The bad news was that she was Paul’s Number One Fan. And when she found out what Paul had done to Misery, she didn’t like it. She didn’t like it at all. And now he had to bring Misery back to life. Or else . . .

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Have I ever described a book as ‘brutal’ in any of my reviews? Nope, didn’t think I had. Well, there’s a first time for everything…

Misery is brutal.

But I mean that as a compliment. It’s been so long time since a book has had me recoiling back in my chair, my mouth hanging agape as I frantically re-read a sentence just to be 100% certain I’ve read what I think I’ve just read.

Misery is something of a slow burner. The real action – the shit hitting the fan, so to speak – doesn’t begin until about three quarters of the way through the novel when Annie gets impossibly more sadistic in her actions. However, the slowness of the plot until that point really builds the anticipation. Annie’s past is fed to us in dribs and drabs, allowing us to piece together who she is and what she’s done…or, at least, who we think she is and what she’s done. The truth behind Annie is far more horrifying, horrifying in only a way Stephen King – the true master of horror – can conceive of.

I sometimes feel like I’m too innocent for Stephen King’s books. For example, there’s a scene where (teeny tiny spoiler alert) Annie forces Paul to drink dirty water from a mop bucket (a scene throughout which I kept picturing the mop bucket in the kitchen at work and, consequently, kept retching a bit more than ever so slightly) and thought to my naive self, Oh dear, it can’t get much worse than this can it?

Oh yes it can. Dear god and sweet mother o’ Jesus, yes it can. I can just picture Stephen King laughing at my earlier thoughts, patting me on the head and saying “Oh Jazz, you really are funny!

There are certain books you read and you find yourself chuckling at the absurdity of the situation the characters find themselves in, but this is far from the case with Misery. Misery is graphic to the point where you can almost feel the pain, fear and helplessness that Paul experiences. They say reading makes us better people because it teaches us empathy and all I can say is this; if you need lessons in empathy, this is the book for you. Everything Paul sees, hears, smells and feels, you as a reader will see, hear, smell and feel too. There were certain points during Misery where I actually had to close the book for a few moments and just breathe, just remind myself that I wasn’t locked in Annie’s spare room.

I like Paul as a protagonist for two main reasons. One, his dry sense of humour is hilarious. Two, he’s believable. So often in novels, protagonists develop this hero complex and feel the need to put themselves in dangerous situations when they’re already in a bloody dangerous situation to begin with (danger within danger…dangception?). Paul doesn’t, though. He’s intelligent enough to understand that any plan he attempts to see through will have potentially dire consequences and, as a result, he often backs out of a plan if he deems it too risky. He’s not a hero. He’s just a man fighting to stay alive. As much as we like to pretend we’d drop kick Annie (well, maybe not with mangled legs) at the first chance we got, we have to be honest and say we’d probably be Paul-like in our actions. It’s a very human desire, the need to survive, and Paul demonstrates that there’s no shame in this.

Misery is a gripping, harrowing story of a man’s fight for survival. I wouldn’t recommend it for the fainthearted, but it’s a fantastic read if you enjoy horror of the human kind. So often we think horror lies in ghosts, vampires or werewolves, when in actuality, it’s a by-product of the more negative side of humanity.

Rating: 5 out of 5 (I sometimes worry I’m too liberal with my 5s, but I think I just have a fantastic taste in books)

Song: Paramore’s Misery Business

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This book is available on Amazon in both e-reader and paperback format.

 

WWW Wednesday – 24th May 2017

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words. To take part, all you’ve got to do is answer the three Ws below and post a link to your answers here. Be sure to check out other participants’ answers too! You never know what you might find to add to your TBR list ;D

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The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading

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Well, I say currently. I’m starting this tonight. After the intensity of Misery, I feel in dire need of something that classes itself as ‘comedy horror’.

Recently finished reading

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Misery was both addictive and terrifying. Just when I thought Annie couldn’t  do anything worse, she’d go and surprise me all over and again. Such an intense book. I feel like I’m in need a vacation.

Next on my reading list 

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Chauncey dropped me an email asking if I fancied reading and reviewing Home to Roost and with a blurb as epic as this, I immediately said yes. Super excited to begin this book!

Manchester

The world is falling apart around us.

Terrorism is creeping around this planet like some sort of parasite, choking the life and vitality out of it, but it’s important that we remember one crucial thing during these dark times.

Muslims aren’t the enemy; terrorists are.

So often in the wake of these attacks, people take to Facebook and Twitter, blasting immigrants and criticizing innocent Muslims who simply want to go about their lives just like anyone else.

But blaming the entire global Muslim population for the actions of one group of crazed individuals is like blaming the entire Christian population for the actions of the KKK. It’s like blaming every single Irish person for the 1996 IRA bombing of Manchester.

ISIS aren’t acting in the name of Islam, despite what they claim. They’re monsters who have deliberately misinterpreted the Quran in a pathetic attempt to justify their own warped agenda.

The events of Manchester have really shook me. Manchester was my home for three years and two of my old housemates were in the arena when the bomb went off. It’s a city that took me under its wing when I was nothing more than a naive teenager. Manchester taught me the importance of lending a helping hand to those in need and being kind to all you meet. Manchester and its people taught me the importance of always being yourself, regardless of what other people may think and the fact that someone attempted to destroy these fundamental values is awful.

But I use the word ‘attempted’ because whatever ISIS do, they haven’t yet destroyed the human spirit. Manchester pulled together in the wake of last night’s bomb – hotels opened their doors to children who had lost their friends, siblings and parents, taxi drivers waived fares, locals opened their homes to those unable to get out the city, takeaways handed out free food and drink…it’s the Mancunian spirit in its purest form and it’s a trend mirrored in cities all over the world. When ISIS attack, people pray for the dead and tend to the wounded, they comfort the bereaved and they try their damned hardest to carry on as normally as humanly possible. The human spirit has so far proved indestructible and I hope it can weather whatever else these bastards have to throw at it.

Since ISIS began on their path of destruction, countless innocent lives have been lost and it’s the deaths of young children that really get to me. Bright futures snuffed out in seconds in wave after wave of senseless violence.

How can anyone wake up with intention of wreaking as much pain and suffering as they can? 

 

A Cup of Tea and a Chinwag with Jazz; Episode 3, ‘The Immortal Author’

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In today’s episode, I’m exploring the idea of author’s immortalizing themselves through their words. What criteria does a book need to meet in order to ensure its creator’s immortality? Find out in today’s episode and be sure to add your own ideas in the comments below.

Check out the episode here and please accept my humblest apologies for the lack of bloopers. It seems I’m getting better at speaking, unfortunately 😛

‘What she left’ T. R. Richmond

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Alice Salmon
young, smart, ambitious –
with her whole life ahead of her.
Until the night she mysteriously drowns.

Nobody knows how or why.

But Alice left a few clues:
her diary, texts, emails, and presence on social media

Alice is gone but fragments of the life she led remain – and in them might lie the answer to what really happened to her – if only someone can piece it all together before it vanishes for ever . . .

underlinetransparentIt’s not often that I read thrillers but in keeping with my 2017 ‘Refuse to read only paranormal romance’ challenge, I decided to steal What she left from my mum after hearing her talk about how much she had enjoyed it. My mum and I don’t agree on everything – ie. whether or not the moon landings were faked – but we can both agree upon a good book when we see one.

What she left is an extremely modern novel. In the 21st century, privacy is an alien concept in many respects. Everything we are and everything we do can be uncovered with a few clicks of the mouse and as a result, we leave a digital trail in our wake. T. R. Richmond addresses what these digital trails reveal about a person and how no secret can remain truly secret in the modern age.

It’s not only a modern novel in regards to its themes, though. The narrative style is fresh and innovative; the entirety of  this book is an amalgamation of Twitter posts, emails, diary entries, letters and blog posts. Sure, it does get a little confusing as the narrative is constantly jumping between years, but I still think it’s an effective method of narration. These exchanges between the various characters are so personal and as a result, these characters feel like real people. T. R. Richmond must have understood the risk he was taking with such a unusual narrative, but I think it’s certainly a risk that paid off well.

No one is perfect and this is a harsh truth highlighted within the pages of What she left. The events immediately preceding Alice’s death are shrouded in mystery (initially anyway – no spoilers from me!), and one thing that the novel demonstrates is how when we allow our flaws to overcome us, even the tiniest of actions can contribute towards a much bigger, far more devastating outcome. Flaws are an inherent part of being human and each of Alice’s acquaintances – be they her family or friends – possesses one major flaw, if not several. There are characters driven to the brink of sanity by obsession. Characters who lash out with more than just words while in the grips of jealousy…and it’s these flaws that, combined, lead to Alice’s untimely and tragic death.

What she left is addictive. This book is almost like a puzzle, each piece of Alice’s trail slotting together to form an ending that I can guarantee you won’t see coming.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Song: Nightwish’s Dark Chest of Wonders 

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This book is available on Amazon in both paperback and e-reader format.

‘sup yo

I’m having my WordPress-hates-me problem again. I think I’m being stashed in people’s spam folders 😦 It doesn’t seem to be an issue when I comment on certain people’s posts, like people I’ve been following for a long time, but on other people’s blogs my comment doesn’t appear with awaiting moderation’ or anything…it just disappears into the ether. So, a question and a request…

Does anyone else have this issue occurring repeatedly? And if so, is there anything I can do?

and

Please check your spam folders because occasionally real people are hiding in there! 

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