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‘Cleaving Souls’ Chauncey Rogers

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Some dangers you cannot outrun. Some nightmares do not end when you wake.

Something is watching Katherine Harris. She can feel it when she goes out. She can feel it inside her home. She feels it in her bed. Her husband, Alex, wants to blame her anxiety on her pregnancy, but he’s often away for work. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be stuck in a small town, to be trapped in a tiny house on a run-down street, to be alone. Kat does, and the feeling only grows worse. 

Whatever is going on, Kat’s certain that it’s far more serious than pregnancy jitters. When Alex takes Kat on a second honeymoon to get her mind off things, it becomes far more dangerous as well.

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I received a free copy of Cleaving Souls, courtesy of Chauncey, in exchange for an honest review. I reviewed Chauncey’s previous book, Home to Roost, the review of which you can check out here.

When I first heard about Cleaving Souls, it seemed to tick all the right boxes on my list of What makes a great novel. Horror? Check (hey, it is Halloween month after all!) Written by Chauncey Rogers, author of Home to Roost, which is one of my best reads of 2017? Check. Intriguing premise? Double check. I had high hopes for Cleaving Souls and I was eager to delve right in.

It did not disappoint. In fact, I’d go as far as to say Cleaving Souls went above and beyond my already high expectations.

One of the first things I want to highlight is Chauncey’s ability to completely immerse his readers in the events within his novels. My reading of this book began in a drafty launderette, where I had to sit for an hour waiting for my laundry to dry. The launderette is bitterly cold in October and the plastic seat I was sat upon did little to enhance my comfort…but I barely noticed my dismal surroundings. Upon reading the first page, the world around me seemed to melt away and was replaced by the disconcerting town of Peascombe in which the book’s protagonist, Kat, lives with her husband.

Let’s talk about the prologue.

The prologue effectively reels a reader in. It’s a prologue that had me asking a lot of questions, questions which I can’t reveal here without giving away potential spoilers. I will say this, though; the answers to your questions don’t start being revealed until around three quarters of the way through the book, meaning it keeps you guessing. I don’t know about you, but I thoroughly enjoy books that have me theorizing throughout and the great thing about Cleaving Souls is that my various theories regarding the gradually worsening creepy happenings in Kat’s life came nowhere near to the actuality of them. The truth underpinning Kat’s dreams and the voice she keeps hearing is far darker than I could have ever imagined.

Which leads me quite nicely onto the horror elements of this book. A lot of horror these days is blood, guts and gore and while that makes me insanely uncomfortable, it doesn’t outright scare me. It doesn’t keep me awake at night. I just watch a few funny videos on YouTube and bam, I forget about it.

Not with Cleaving Souls, though. The horror within this book is creepy. It’s unsettling. It’s unnerving. It’s the kind of horror that stays with you long after you’ve put the book down (hence why it wasn’t a book that I read before sleep). For me, one of the most unnerving elements of Cleaving Souls is Kat’s initial uncertainty over what is and isn’t real. How terrifying must it be to question your own sanity when (spoiler alert) you see your reflection in the TV screen doing things that you most definitely are not? How unsettling must it be to receive texts that disappear, leaving you (and your spouse) wondering if they were ever there at all?

Cleaving Souls is a fresh, innovative book within its genre and one that will keep you guessing right until its terrifying end. If you’re looking for a creepy book to keep you company on these cold, dark nights leading up to Halloween, Cleaving Souls is the book for you.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Song: Queen’s I’m going slightly mad 

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This book is available  to buy on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

 

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‘Dark World’ Zak Bagans

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Paranormal investigator Zak Bagans pulls from his years of experience with paranormal activities and unexplained phenomena to provide an even-handed look at a divisive subject

It’s easy to say ghosts exist or don’t exist. Anyone can do that. Trying to figure out the why or what is a different story. Paranormal investigator Zak Bagans, host of the popular Travel Channel series Ghost Adventures, pulls from his years of experience with paranormal activities and unexplained phenomena to provide an evenhanded look at a divisive subject.

In Dark World, regardless of whether you believe in the afterlife or not, Zak does his best to find and share answers to the phenomena that people encounter. He wants you to experience a haunting through his eyes: to feel what it’s like to be scared, freaked out, pushed, cold, sluggish, whispered-at and touched by an ethereal being or attacked by a demonic spirit. But beyond simply experiencing these events, Zak is looking for the reasons behind them, searching for answers to the unanswered questions.

Addressing all the major issues and theories of the field in an impartial way, Dark World is a must read for paranormal enthusiasts, those who don’t believe and anyone who’s ever wondered about things that go bump in the night.

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So something a little bit different for today’s review and I have to be honest and say I stupidly didn’t start this book for ages because I read mostly at night and was expecting this to be scary…(and the fact that this wasn’t particularly scary is not a criticism. I have enough night terrors and nightmares at it is, sheesh). Anyway, I’ve been interested in the paranormal for yeeeeeeeeeeeeears, though, having had my first unexplained, spooky experience when I was six years old so I really, really wanted to read this book.

Okay, so, my family tease me relentlessly for watching paranormal investigation shows and when I watch the odd episode of Most Haunted…I can totally see why. They run around screaming and whenever stuff happens, it’s always, always conveniently off camera.

But Ghost Adventures is different. Sure, it can be hilariously dramatic sometimes but the GA crew take what they do seriously. If something happens or if something is captured on video or on a digital recorder, they don’t just take it at face value. They go out of their way to try and debunk it before slapping a ‘Paranormal’ label on it.

And this is why I wanted to read Zak Bagans’ book. There’s only so much that they can fit into an hour long episode and I was hoping Dark World would provide me with an opportunity to delve behind the scenes and turn a two dimensional TV viewer’s perspective into something more. 

Dark World did not disappoint.

The book seems to be split into two halves; the first half is an account of Zak’s personal experiences with the paranormal and an in depth discussion of his past investigations with his team, while the second half is an eye opening exploration into the various paranormal theories out there, including some of his own. I’m not gonna lie, some of the theories seem pretty, well, out there but hey, it wasn’t so long ago (well, in terms of human existence anyway) that people thought the notion of the Earth revolving around the sun was pretty cray cray. I particularly enjoyed the first half the book because I enjoy knowing the hows and the whys. When I first began binge watching Ghost Adventures, I will be honest and say I thought Zak was just an over confident, overly bossy guy and having read Dark World, I have to confess that I feel quite bad in that initial assumption because there’s a reason behind it all. If you’re not confident in an investigation, why should anyone (dead or alive) take you seriously? If you don’t take charge of the situation, an investigation becomes somewhat shambolic with people having no idea of what they should be doing.

My only real issue with this book was the dramatic change in tone in the second half the book. It became quite theoretical and while I did find it interesting, I did find it quite heavy going at times because I don’t come from a science background. However, I do appreciate this might say more about me than it does about the book. Having just started an MA, I have been sitting here up the eyeballs in journal papers and textbooks so it’s quite possible that I’m just theoried out. The theories within this book and Zak’s ability to view the paranormal from a range of different perspectives demonstrate both his passion for this subject and his maturity about it. A lot of people just scoff and say “Ha! Ghosts!? Bullfuckingshit.” without actually taking any arguments, research and evidence into consideration. Zak seems to say to his readers, believers and skeptics alike, “I get that this seems pretty weird, but hear me out and keep an open mind about it.”  He understands and appreciates that there are people who are rightfully skeptical, but through this book, he presents his evidence and allows people to make up their own minds. He’s presented evidence that the paranormal does exist in a clear and thoroughly researched manner, so perhaps it’s time that the skeptics presented their evidence that the paranormal doesn’t exist.

This book is relatively old (well, like, 6 or 7 years) and I know Zak has written other books since. It’d be interesting to see how his ideas have changed in the years following this book’s publication.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Song: Ghostbuster’s theme (believe me, I wanted to find something a bit more deep and meaningful, but it’s the only song that seems to truly fit…honest…)

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

‘I Am Legend’ Richard Matheson

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An acclaimed SF novel about vampires. The last man on earth is not alone …

Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth … but he is not alone. Every other man, woman and child on the planet has become a vampire, and they are hungry for Neville’s blood.

By day he is the hunter, stalking the undead through the ruins of civilisation. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for the dawn.

How long can one man survive like this?

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Okay, before I begin the actual review, let me just say this one, crucial thing; if you haven’t read I Am Legend because you watched I Am Legend the movie with Will Smith and a stupid, confusing ending…well, banish whatever notions you had about the book right now. They are two completely different entities. The book and the movie share a title, the protagonist of each share a name and there’s vampires…the similarities end there (although admittedly, on paper (or on screen, wah brackets within brackets…braception?) it does sound like they’re very similar).

I Am Legend is an interesting book. Clocking in at a mere 160 pages, it’s a book that’s a unique blend of sci-fi and horror and is a book that has inspired contemporary well-known horror authors such as Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Hell, if that isn’t an endorsement then I don’t know what is!

Now, this might be controversial to say, but the book didn’t blow me away (hey, that rhymed!). I Am Legend was first published in 1954 and since then, a lot of horror novels have been published. It’s not so much that I Am Legend is bad or boring, it’s more I’ve become desensitized to horror because it’s such a prevalent genre in the 21st century. Had I read this book upon its initial publication, sure, then I might have found it truly terrifying. The notion of a mysterious illness that turns people into the literal walking dead, an illness with seemingly no preventative measures or cure…it does sound like a scary premise for a book and it was…back in 1954. This isn’t so much a flaw of the book, this is more a flaw with me, its reader.

One thing I did really like about I Am Legend, though, is Robert Neville’s flashbacks. Seeing the life he’d had juxtaposed against his current situation served as a way of demonstrating to the reader just how much he’s lost. I think for me, some of the real horror lay in the fact that he’s completely and utterly alone with only his painful memories to keep him company. I may be generalizing here, but the idea of being alone is a frightening prospect for many people.

In terms of the narration, I initially found Neville’s thoughts quite difficult to follow, but upon reflection, I think the way in which his thoughts seem jumbled and nonsensical is a way of demonstrating how his loneliness is affecting him. The narration is a mirror image of Neville’s thoughts and, as a result, a reader really gets a sense of his confusion, fear and sheer frustration. It’s a form of narration that really gets a reader empathizing with him and books that allow a reader to walk in the shoes of another are books that are well written.

Overall, a cleverly, well-written book but not one I found overly scary.

Now, before I sign off this review, I propose a fun drinking game! It’s called Neck-a-shot-everytime-Robert Neville-spills-his-whisky-or-throws-or-breaks-his-whisky-glass. Let’s see how many of us can get past the third chapter!

Rating: 3 out of 5

Song: Iron Maiden’s Fear of the dark

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

 

‘I call myself a feminist’ Victoria Pepe (and many others) – review + short essay

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Is feminism still a dirty word? We asked twenty-five of the brightest, funniest, bravest young women what being a feminist in 2015 means to them.
We hear from Laura Bates (of the Everyday Sexism Project), Reni Eddo-Lodge (award-winning journalist and author), Yas Necati (an eighteen-year-old activist), Laura Pankhurst, great-great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and an activist in her own right, comedian Sofie Hagen, engineer Naomi Mitchison and Louise O’Neill, author of the award-winning feminist Young Adult novel Only Ever Yours. Writing about a huge variety of subjects, we have Martha Mosse on how she became a feminist, Alice Stride on sexism in language, Amy Annette addressing the body politic and Samira Shackle on having her eyes opened in a hostel for survivors of acid attacks in Islamabad, while Maysa Haque thinks about the way Islam has informed her feminism and Isabel Adomakoh Young insists that women don’t have to be perfect. There are twelve other performers, politicians and writers who include Jade Anouka, Emily Benn, Abigail Matson-Phippard, Hajar Wright and Jinan Younis.
Is the word feminist still to be shunned? Is feminism still thought of as anti-men rather than pro-human? Is this generation of feminists – outspoken, funny and focused – the best we’ve had for long while? Has the internet given them a voice and power previously unknown?

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I am a feminist. I am a feminist because I believe that all women are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as men. I believe women are entitled to these rights and opportunities from the moment that they take their first breath, but too often this isn’t the case. In 2015, India’s Minister on Women and Child Development stated that approximately 2,000 girls are killed across India on a daily basis because of their gender. This reason, among many countless others, is why I am a feminist.

Within modern Western society, there’s this dangerous misconception that because “things are better than they used to be” there’s nothing left to fight for. In legal terms, things have indeed progressed within the last century in Great Britain, but sexism is still prevalent in our everyday lives. The misconception that sexism aimed at women doesn’t exist has arisen because it’s something that’s become so entrenched within our society that a lot of people simply don’t notice it. It’s become almost normal and there’s something seriously fucked up about that. Furthermore, even if sexism didn’t exist within our society, why shouldn’t we continue to fight for the rights of other girls and women worldwide? For the girls and women who are denied a voice, denied an education, denied autonomy over their own bodies? It is our responsibility – men included- to fight for the rights of these people. It’s sickening that a woman felt that her only option was to commit suicide after her family denied her the right to an a cesarean section when her labour became too painful and dangerous. It’s wrong that girls as young as six are married off by their families, denying them the chance of a childhood and an education and robbing them of their dignity. It’s disgusting that some women aren’t allowed to leave the house without their husband’s permission, as though they are objects and not free-thinking individuals. Shouldn’t we fight for them too? Women such as Emmeline Pankhurst fought tirelessly for women’s rights and it’s time we carried that fighting spirit to other parts of the world.

A friend and I had a discussion about the aforementioned everyday sexism that’s entrenched within our society here in England, the focus of the conversation being on the differences in the language used to describe men and women. There are certain words that are usually exclusive to the describing of women. Words like ‘high maintenance’, ‘hormonal’ and ‘ditsy’ are words that are lacking from the repertoire of adjectives used to describe men and words such as ‘ambitious’ and ‘bossy’ are words that have comparatively more negative connotations than their synonyms of ‘driven’ and ‘strong-minded’, which are more likely to be used when describing men. Our conversation then moved onto the sexism that we ourselves have experienced and I’ll share some of my experiences with you right now. When I was 20, a guy told me that if I “just lost some weight”, I’d be really “pretty”, as if my worth is weighed by my outward appearance alone, as if beauty boils down to the size of a person’s body…as if my sole purpose is to be aesthetically pleasing to those around me. When I was 22, a guy lectured me on what my body should be able to do because I had the ‘audacity’ to say that I was too tired to have sex with him again. The same guy also got indescribably angry at dinner one night when it dawned on him that I, a woman, got paid more than him. He then proceeded to near enough wrestle the bill for said dinner off me because I’d suggested going halves, saying that as a woman I couldn’t pay for things like that. He also used to laugh in my face when we were arguing – ironically, it was usually about feminism – saying that I was “cute” when I was angry and “tried” to argue. He was a disgusting person who thought my sole purpose was to serve his physical needs and to be a bit of arm candy. He didn’t respect the fact that I was happily independent with my own income and my own set of beliefs and values.

So, let me reiterate; I am a feminist because I believe women worldwide, including those who identify as female – of any age, sexuality or race – are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as men. We’re entitled to not be lectured on our bodies. We’re entitled to autonomy over our bodies. We’re entitled to an education. We’re entitled to a voice. We’re entitled to the same wages as men for doing the same jobs. We’re entitled to exist and to be free to enjoy that existence.

And this is why I love I call myself a feminist. It’s essentially a book of short essays, each one written by a feminist. These women cover a broad spectrum of the global female community and gives them each a moment to voice their ideas on feminism and what it means to them. I love how inclusive this book is in the way that it recognises that women of all backgrounds suffer at the hands of discrimination based on their gender.

There’s a massive emphasis on intersectionality, which is essentially the fact that many forms of discrimination and oppression intersect with one another. This book helps a reader to understand this notion and emphasises the importance of understanding that many women fight a battle against discrimination on many fronts. This understanding helps the feminist movement become an all-inclusive movement, a movement that recognises and respects the individual nature of each person’s experiences.

I also love how this book promotes the reality that men can be feminists too. Men have a responsibility to change their attitudes towards women and to support the women in their lives. Many men already have feminist values, but are reluctant to label them as that because of the the negative connotations that the term has been weighted down with over the years. Feminism is often branded as ‘man hating’, but it’s not this at all. Feminism is about being on equal footing with men and there is no shame in a man wanting this for women.

To conclude, there’s an extensive bibliography at the back of this book which I think is a fantastic way of encouraging readers to expand upon their knowledge of the issue regarding the equal rights of women.

I call myself a feminist is an engaging and enlightening read and one I recommend for everyone. 

Rating: 5 out of 5

Song: Lesley Gore’s You don’t own me

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

‘The Little Stranger’ Sarah Waters

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In a dusty post-war summer in rural Warwickshire, a doctor is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, its owners – mother, son and daughter – struggling to keep pace. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become entwined with his.

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Now, just a quick heads up in case you hadn’t realized…but there might be some spoilers in this review, simply because this book has left me somewhat baffled and I think I’m gonna need to do some theorizing.

I’m not overly familiar with Sarah Waters’ work, having only previously read Affinity while I was at university. I read The Little Stranger based on the enthusiastic recommendation of a friend who, incidentally, had read this while also at university. I grabbed a beat up old copy from a really cute second bookstore in Glasgow and once the opportunity arose, I delved right in, eager to be transported to a bygone era in which afternoon tea was still very much a ‘thing’.

In terms of the written style, I cannot fault Sarah at all. She gives Dr Faraday – the narrator – such a distinct voice and I think when an author can successfully pen an entire novel from the perspective of someone of not only a different era and profession, but of a different gender too, then I think their talent as a writer really shines through. I found myself completely and utterly absorbed in Faraday’s story, almost as though he were addressing me directly in his recounting of this tragic tale.

Furthermore, Sarah’s talent as a writer was, for me, showcased even further in my immediate dislike for Faraday. As the book is written from a first person narrative, a reader quickly gains a good sense of his personality…and my god, what a prick! I find his character patronizing beyond belief. He counters Caroline and Mrs Ayres’ claims with statements such as “You’re just tired!” and, rather creepily, he constantly refers to Caroline, who at one point is his fiancee, as a “good girl” whenever she agrees with him or goes along with his preferred course of action. His character makes me skin crawl and the shame he initially feels at his developing feelings towards Caroline – because of her eccentricity and looks – only serves to further my dislike for him. A writer who can render a character into an actual person, one who a reader can muster such strong feelings for, is, for want of a better word, gifted.

Let’s talk about the actual plot, though. The Little Stranger introduces the reader to Hundreds Hall, a once stately home that is now collapsing under the weight of financial pressure and natural decay. Faraday, on a routine visit, befriends the Ayres family and soon becomes a staple part of their everyday existence and vice versa. As the weeks progress, however, it soon becomes apparent to Faraday that something more sinister is afoot. Roderick Ayres begins having ‘delusions’ and ‘hallucinations’, all while mysterious burn marks appear around his bedroom. Betty, the housemaid, speaks of “a bad thing” being in the house. Mrs Ayres speaks of her first, long-dead daughter after childish scribbles suddenly start manifesting on the walls, convinced that she’s returned. Caroline, initially dubious about their claims, soon begins questioning happenings around the house too.

The question is, though, is any of it real? Is there anything inherently supernatural about these happenings or, as I personally suspect, are these happenings a result of a somewhat obsessive and unreliable narrator? The tragic ending is left open to interpretation…but here are my thoughts.

I haven’t quite ironed out all the kinks in my theory, but I think Faraday is at the center of most of the events. I think he takes advantage of Roderick’s illness as a means of achieving his ultimate goal; ownership of Hundreds Hall. He seems to have a deep-rooted obsession with Hundreds Hall, which becomes apparent in the opening chapter where he’s a child and at a fete, being hosted by the Ayres, with his mother. Having gained access to the house, he chips away at a decorative acorn he sees on some plaster board for no reason other than the fact he wants to “possess” a part of the house. This obsession is further displayed when he becomes angered by Caroline’s reluctance to live in the house when they talk about their post-wedding plans and he then becomes downright furious when she decides to sell up towards the end of the book. In the final chapter (fuck it, I’ve already mentioned spoiler alerts), we find him sweeping the now-derelict Hall three years after the death of Caroline, because he cannot bring himself to relinquish ownership of his keys…

…which leads me to the part of the novel where I began to suspect (rather belatedly, but cut me some slack, I’m not a detective!) that Faraday had played a hand in these events. At the inquest into Caroline’s death, Betty claims she heard Caroline exclaim “You!” before her fall from the second floor landing, indicating that she had encountered somebody that she knew. When we learn that Faraday was snoozing in his car but two miles away (and ‘dreams’ of walking up Hundreds Hall’s driveway) and is in possession of his own set of keys…well, it becomes apparent who “You!” was, especially as all this follows Faraday’s erratic and obsessive behaviour. In his narrative, he comes across as just as puzzled and distressed as anyone else following the death, but the fact that this is in first person narrative automatically makes him an unreliable narrator.

Maybe I should be a detective…

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It’s a look that suits me, I think.

So, I’ve concluded that Faraday is pretty much Caroline’s killer, but what of the other ‘happenings’?

My conclusion regarding Caroline’s death has led me to believe that Faraday plays a role in nearly all of the supposed ‘ghostly’ events in the book. Following Roderick’s breakdown, which has probably been brought on by belated shell shock and the pressures of trying to run a declining estate, I feel Faraday perhaps takes advantage of the nervous tension running rife throughout the Hall.

But is the role he plays in these events subconcious? While discussing the ‘poltergeist’ activity with his colleague, Dr Seeley, Seeley suggests an idea derived from a popular school of thought regarding poltergeist activity; perhaps the activity has arisen from the unconscious part of someone’s brain, the negative emotions they generally keep hidden manifesting in the form of destructive activity. This theory of mine is given weight by a scene in which Faraday returns to his home and, upon going to bed, imagines himself travelling through the Hall and into Caroline’s bedroom (creepy anyway, but whatever). Incidentally, a lot of the activity occurs at night. Is Faraday somehow projecting his subconscious thoughts and feelings upon Hundreds Hall and its residents, driving them to brink of insanity? It seems a credible theory when we take into account the Ayres family were mostly fine until Faraday rocked up…

Also, is Faraday the “little stranger”, a reference, perhaps, to the young boy we meet in the first chapter who’s so desperate for a slice of the Ayres’ life?

Eugh! So many questions!

Anyway, while I enjoyed this book and have delighted in theorizing, I found it to be quite slow moving, which meant the first half of the book took me a good three or four days to get through. However, once “shit hits the fan”, it’s a book that is quite literally unputdownable (shut up, it’s a word). I devoured the final 200 or so pages in one lengthy sitting.

A great read! Bravo! *claps*

Rating: 4 out of 5

Song: Mutemath’s You are mine 

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

 

‘Skitter’ Ezekiel Boone

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Tens of millions of people around the world are dead. Half of China is a nuclear wasteland. Mysterious flesh-eating spiders are marching through Los Angeles, Oslo, Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, and countless other cities. According to scientist Melanie Gruyer, however, the spider situation seems to be looking up.

Yet in Japan, a giant, truck-sized, glowing egg sack is discovered, even as survivors in Los Angeles panic and break the quarantine zone. Out in the desert, survivalists Gordo and Shotgun are trying to invent a weapon to defeat the spiders. But even if they succeed it may be too late, because President Stephanie Pilgrim has been forced to enact the plan of last resort: The Spanish Protocol.

Every country must fight for itself. And the spiders are on the move…

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Before I begin this review, I would like you to all take a moment to give me a round of applause. “Why should we do that?” I hear you cry, your voices laced with a mixture of confusion and awe as you gaze upon the opening lines of what promises to be another top notch, stellar review.

Well, you see, my adoring fans, I managed to get through this entire book without any spider-related nightmares. I know, I know. You don’t have to say it; it’s a pretty impressive feat…although the spiders inhabiting the pages of Skitter did make me extremely paranoid about a moth who decided to crash in my room for a couple of nights this past week. This moth was massive. Like, size of a small bird massive (like, a really small bird, but a bird nonetheless)…and, surprise surprise, it would only rear its creepy, giant-eyed, dust covered face in the dead of night. Naturally, the combination of reading Skitter but hours before and my overly active imagination resulted in my first concern genuinely being “But what if it burrows into my skin and lays eggs inside me?” I had visions of, say, being on the bus and concerned passengers looking to my shuddering, retching form. In this vision, I’d look up, a single tear trickling down my cheek as a I mouthed a final apology before vomiting a swarm of giant moths that would engulf the bus in a torrent of screams and flapping wings and –

– I should probably crack on with this review, shouldn’t I?

So, Skitter is the follow up to The Hatching (the review of which you can check out here) and it’s absolutely bloody fantastic for reasons which I’m about to explain.

After the demise of the first wave of spiders, Dr Melanie Guyer predicts that it’s only a matter of time before the second wave hatches (either from creepy vibrating egg sacs, or the stomachs of poor, unsuspecting hosts). If we – characters and readers alike – thought the first wave was horrific, they’re nothing compared to the second wave (well, not quite nothing, but, well, a smidgen less terrifying maybe? Like 0.01% of a smidgen?). I liked the differentiation between the two strains of spiders. Despite this being an eventual trilogy, Ezekiel is managing to keep the horror fresh. There wasn’t a single moment throughout my reading of Skitter where I thought “Oh yeah, but someone was killed like that in The Hatching.” There’s hand-over-mouth-and-eyes-widening-in-horror moments aplenty in this book.

Skitter gives us a chance to catch up with the cast of characters we were first introduced to in The Hatching but, not only that, it adds a very human touch to the overall narrative. In my review for The Hatching, I talked about the chapters from the unnamed characters’ perspectives and how I found these effective; the anonymity of these characters meant that they could be anyone. They could have been me or you, our best friends or parents, our colleagues or neighbours, which I felt increased the realism for the reader. This form of narrative is carried over into Skitter, but I felt it made more of an impact. Some of the chapters are perhaps half a page long – a mere breath in time – but the weight of emotion contained within those few words are beyond comprehension. Some of the moments captured – for example, the couple in Chicago towards the end of the book – are heartrendingly intimate and so very real. The Hatching has a somewhat comedic element to it, while Skitter focuses more on the human tragedies resulting from the invasion of these ancient spiders.

I enjoyed The Hatching and I enjoyed Skitter even more. Needless to say, I’m extremely excited for the final book, Zero Day, which is due to be published in February 2018!

Rating: 5 out of 5

Song: Shelob’s Lair from the The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’s soundtrack.

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

 

 

 

‘The Art of Asking’ Amanda Palmer

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Imagine standing on a box in the middle of a busy city, dressed as a white-faced bride, and silently using your eyes to ask people for money. Or touring Europe in a punk cabaret band, and finding a place to sleep each night by reaching out to strangers on Twitter. For Amanda Palmer, actions like these have gone beyond satisfying her basic needs for food and shelter – they’ve taught her how to turn strangers into friends, build communities, and discover her own giving impulses. And because she had learned how to ask, she was able to go to the world to ask for the money to make a new album and tour with it, and to raise over a million dollars in a month.

In the New York TImes bestseller The Art of Asking, Palmer expands upon her popular TED talk to reveal how ordinary people, those of us without thousands of Twitter followers and adoring fans, can use these same principles in our own lives.

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Don’t you just love a book that makes you whip out the ol’ sticky notes? I sure as hell do and The Art of Asking is one of those books.

The Art of Asking was prescribed to me (is that the right word? I kinda feel it is in this case) by my boyfriend and I’m going to be honest, prior to reading it, I literally had no idea who Amanda Palmer was. He simply gave it to me and said it was an important read…so I delved into it with literally no idea of what to expect. I don’t generally read non-fiction so I wasn’t entirely convinced it’d be my ‘thing’, but, well, I have to confess…

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Oh. My. God. I’m actually feeling slightly intimidated at the prospect of writing this review because I don’t know if I can do this incredible book justice with mere words. If there was a way to inject the sheer weight of emotion that this book hit me with into your veins, believe me, I would. It’s such an incredibly raw and poignant piece of literature. Amanda’s insights into the human race and how we function at our most basic, fundamental level is breathtaking.

We all want to be seen for who we really are and loved for it regardless. We all fall victim to the fraud police. We all fear being seen as weak and needy and, as a result, refrain from asking for the most basic of things – love, understanding, time and support – when we need it most.

Amanda addresses our shared insecurities in The Art of Asking and shares her experiences in dealing with these feelings in a book that is a multitude of things; heartwarming, heartbreaking, funny, inspiring, honest…these are to name but a few.

The tone of this book is what initially captured my attention and pulled me out of my three week reading slump. Amanda is a well-known singer-songwriter, but she’s just as down-to-earth as anyone else. We tend to put our idols – our favourite writers, singers, actors etc – on a pedestal. We see them as these god-like figures who have no interest in us mere mortals and, a lot of the time, they don’t. Amanda is different, though. She actively engages with her fans and treats them as her closest friends, reaching out to them, both through social media and in person, when they’re in need. The warm, loving tone with which this book has been carefully written made me feel like I was cocooned in the safest of embraces with my closest friend. Amanda sees me. Amanda sees you…she sees all of us. The Art of Asking was a surreal reading experience for me. It felt as though Amanda was speaking to me on a soul deep level.

I’m sure a lot of people who’ve read this book say this, but Amanda reminds me of, well, me. On page 42 (and I’m this specific with page numbers because like I said, I’ve sticky noted the fuck out of this book), she talks about the Fraud Police, an idea I’ve always referred to as ‘impostor syndrome’. It’s this crazy notion a lot of people have that others will discover that they actually have no idea what they’re doing. I feel like this a lot, both in terms of my personal life and my life as a writer. Even now, writing this review, I can feel the Fraud Police knocking on the door of my mind, whispering through the letter box “Hah! You don’t what you’re talking about, lady! We know you’re stupid and just mask that stupidity with long words and even longer sentences! Just wait ’til everyone finds out!”. I’ve been running this blog for over a year now and I still feel like that. It’s the same whenever I write a poem or a story. I feel good about it…and then I read a piece by someone else and the self doubt begins creeping in. I feel like a fraud when I see the beautiful, funny pieces that other people write, like I have no right to call myself a ‘writer’ and don’t even get me started on my personal life! If someone compliments me, it make me insanely uncomfortable because I can’t associate myself with words like “beautiful”. I struggle to believe that it’s me that’s being referred to and nothing scares me more than the thought of people realising that I’m not as cool as they thought I was and realising I’m not worth their time…but knowing that someone as well-known as Amanda Palmer suffers with these very same feelings brings me more comfort than she might have ever realised it could. Furthermore, she goes on to explain why people might have these feelings and that understanding helps people to take that first crucial step towards fighting back against the Fraud Police.

Now, let’s move onto the topic that this book revolves around; the art of asking. Amanda talks about how difficult she found it to borrow money from her husband, the famous author, Neil Gaiman, which was something of an irony for someone who could take to Twitter and ask complete strangers for a couch to sleep on. The inability to ask those closest to us for something is a universal theme.

But why?

Why do we have such difficulty in asking? Do we fear being looked down upon? Do we fear being seen as weak and vulnerable? In Amanda’s case, yes. She feared people would think she was sponging off her rich husband and would see her as a user or a golddigger. She feared judgment and judgement is something I think we all fear. When I was in my second year at university, I went through a particularly bad spell with my depression and ended up in hospital one night. The friend who came to my aid called my other friends, one of whom is one of my best friends, and, initially, I refused them entry into my cubicle. I was so scared of being judged and being seen as stupid and weak. When I eventually relented, they came bursting in in floods of tears. They weren’t angry with me. They weren’t ashamed of me. They were just sad that I hadn’t felt able to ask them for help. Reading The Art of Asking has brought that memory to the forefront of my mind and even though I only finished reading it yesterday, I think my reading of it has been a pivotal moment of my life. This book has taught me a lot of things but one of the key lessons at its core is this; asking isn’t easy but we all deserve the right to ask. The art of asking is a gift in a way. Your gifting the recipient of your question with your trust. You’re gifting them with your soul laid bare, vulnerabilities and all. Sure, they’re entitled to say no, asking isn’t about making demands after all…but the crucial point is this, how will you know unless you ask? Ask and humanity might just surprise you with its response.

Did I do this book justice? I hope I did! The Art of Asking is a must read for everyone. 

Rating: 10 out of 5…wait, I can’t do numbers. I mean, 5 out of 5!

Song: Not so much a song (although definitely check out Amanda’s music!) but here’s a link to her TED talk.

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

 

 

‘My Best Friend’s Exorcism’ Grady Hendrix

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The year is 1988. High school sophomores Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fourth grade. But after an evening of skinny-dipping goes disastrously wrong, Gretchen begins to act different. She s moody. She s irritable. And bizarre incidents keep happening whenever she s nearby. Abby s investigation leads her to some startling discoveries and by the time their story reaches its terrifying conclusion, the fate of Abby and Gretchen will be determined by a single question: Is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil? Like an unholy hybrid of Beaches and The Exorcist, My Best Friend s Exorcism blends teen angst, adolescent drama, unspeakable horrors, and a mix of 80s pop songs into a pulse-pounding supernatural thriller.

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Now, this is a book I picked up solely based on the cover. I near enough made the decision to buy it before I’d even flipped it over to the read the blurb. It’s all shades of awesome, having been designed to look like an battered, old VHS case, and the story within is equal to the originality and creativity of its cover.

On the surface, My Best Friend’s Exorcism ticks all the boxes for a good, solid (sounds like I’m talking about poop) horror story: dark forces beyond the control and comprehension of the protagonists, blood-curdling scenes which have a reader holding their breath and turning the pages tentatively in open-mouthed horror, characters doing crazy ass things you would never, ever do in real life (c’mon, skinny dipping in the middle of night? Sheesh, that’s a literal recipe for disaster)…but beneath it all, amid all the classic 80s tunes and scenes in which tape worms slither out of people’s mouths, My Best Friend’s Exorcism is an extremely profound novel. It highlights the very real and very often misunderstood trials and tribulations that are part and parcel of being a teenager. My Best Friend’s Exorcism is not just your average run-of-the-mill horror novel. It’s a social commentary chronicling life in a lot of high schools across the world, be it in the 80s (the decade in which this novel is mostly set) or the present day. We see the fragility of friendship through Abby’s relationships with Margaret and Glee, we see how an entire community (in this case, their school) can turn against someone within a split second for the smallest perceived wrongdoing and we see the complexity of love in all its various forms.

The horror element doesn’t really kick in properly until about three quarters of the way through the book. I was wondering whether Abby’s initial assumptions about Gretchen’s behaviour were correct and that she was suffering from a form of PTSD. This initial ambiguity regarding Gretchen’s behaviour is interesting as it leaves readers guessing and demonstrates the lengths Abby will go to to help her best friend.

From a horror perspective, My Best Friend’s Exorcism rises above and beyond its contemporaries. It’s a fresh take on the traditional story of demonic possession and I can’t say too much more because it will detract from the shock value of some of the scenes should any of you guys decide to read it…but I will say this, Good Dog Max! 

I’m super excited to check out Grady Hendrix’s other books!

Rating: 5 out of 5

Song: Michael Jackson’s Beat It (kinda what I feel Abby should have sang to Gretchen’s demon during the exorcism…)

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

‘Fellowship of Ink’ Paul Magrs

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Brenda is back! It’s the 1930s, and Brenda (of Brenda and Effie fame!) finds herself in the old, medieval university town of Darkholmes in the North of England. She’s a housemaid, and teams up with fictionalised versions of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, who are conjuring up monsters from other dimensions through their writings. Together, they battle demons and solve strange mysteries.

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I’ve been in something of a reading slump these past two weeks and, as a result, it has taken me a rather long time to read this novel comprised of a mere 312 pages.

As is the case with most books, it was the cover of Fellowship of Ink that reeled me in initially. The rainbow colours, the sparkles, the dramatic tag line, the endorsement…combined, they promised a fun-filled, fantastical adventure, all from the comfort of my chair.

Now, I’m going to be honest, I have mixed feelings about this book and after some investigation (a rich term for having a quick Google), I discovered that Fellowship of Ink is a prequel to another series that features Brenda, the Tylers’ housemaid. I’m not sure if the fact that I haven’t read these other books has had an effect upon my enjoyment of this book, but I just found I couldn’t really immerse myself in the story.

Sure, there is a wide array of colourful characters populating this book and the way in which these characters interact with one another is fantastic. The dialogue between them is witty and fast paced and makes for some amusing scenes, particularly those involving Henry Cleavis. Each of the characters is well-rounded and unique and unlike any character I have ever come across elsewhere in fiction. They’re what make this novel so fresh and innovative.

I like the idea behind Fellowship of Ink; the idea that writing can wear thin the walls between the realms. I mean, who hasn’t, at one point or another, wanted to enter an alternate or fictional universe? I think that idea alone speaks to a small spark of hope residing within all of us.

However (god, how I hate that word sometimes), while the story is fast paced and exciting in places, I found it quite difficult to follow. As I said, perhaps this is simply because it’s a fictional universe that I’m unfamiliar with and I realised that this might be the case when I didn’t understand the ending of the book. I felt like I was missing something crucial and I think it might have been because I haven’t read Brenda’s series. If it’s a prequel, though, should a reader be left feeling like this? I don’t know, this is a situation I’ve never faced before as a book blogger.

Furthermore, from an editorial perspective, there are so many errors within Fellowship of Ink. There are multiple typos scattered among the pages, characters become other characters on more than one occasion and Brenda is referred to as ‘Bessie’ twice on page 300. As a writer, I understand editing is difficult but this is a book published by a professional publishing house. Books (I assume anyway) are supposed to be subjected to proofreading and multiple edits before being published.  Truth be told, I’ve never read a book with so many errors and it really pulled me out of the story every time I encountered one.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Song: Iron Maiden’s Stranger in a Strange Land 

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

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