Thursday, 27 October 2016

RIP XI Book V: Horns by Joe Hill

Joe Hill remains a constant happy surprise for me. It would be ridiculous for me (especially me) to claim that I didn't start reading his books because, y'know, he's Stephen King's son and all, but he has in his own right paved a little pathway in my brain of happy-thoughts-about-Joe-Hill. Because his books are good- good for scary stories and good writing and good ideas and just generally goodly good good. Horns is the third of his books I've read, and it might just be my favourite so far.

Horns opens by introducing us to Ig Perrish, son of a famous musician, miserable and hungover, and newly sporting horns growing out of his forehead. As the story goes on, Ig learns that he can hear people's innermost thoughts and can make them do things- as long as he suggests things that they kind of wanted to do already- essentially the devil on your shoulder, only without a counterpart angel. Whilst we don't know why Ig has these horns, we do know that he is one sorry individual because his girlfriend was murdered a year ago and although he was never formally charged, everyone in the small town he comes from and lives in believes he did it anyway. It's not a very nice scenario to be in.

That's pretty much the gist of the first section of the book (Ig's visit to his family and hearing their innermost thoughts about him being a particular lowlight) and if the book had been so unrelentingly bleak throughout then I'm not sure I would have liked it nearly as much. The second section, however, goes back to Ig's teen years, and it's here the book really comes into its own. Ig's teenage memories are kind of lovely. HE'S kind of lovely, and you're left with the impression of a life that's strayed so horribly far from where it was supposed to be that it's pretty bewildering. If you get to see Ig at his worst in the rest of the book, then this is him at his best- innocent and kind but not perfect, because let's face it, that would be boring. This was pretty much my favourite part, and it makes the whole rest of the book worth it because Ig is so damn loveable that you somehow manage to excuse his devilish behaviour (which is still so much better than that of characters in the book who haven't been supernaturally endowed with horns).

I'm not going to say Horns is a perfect book, and even I got a little bit tired of Ig being made out to be a perfect sinless person even though he constantly proves himself to be anything but, but it was pretty much everything I wanted from a book when I read it. It's interesting and gripping and kind of scary, and there's a really cool bit in a treehouse that I think rivals anything King has written about creepy centres of mystical energy (I know). Horns may be even more interesting to anyone who knows anything about the Old Testament beyond, like, Adam and Eve existed; although on the flip side someone who actually knows the Bible might find it kind of trite and silly- I don't know because I am in the latter group and went 'oh sure, the devil and snakes- cool!' Either way, I liked the idea that the book was underlaid by some kind of Biblical precedent, even if that's not necessarily the case. More than that though, I just really fucking enjoyed the book- I read about half of the first section on a Friday, and by Saturday evening I had eaten up the whole damn thing.

Like I said, everything I wanted from a book when I read it.

If you want a kind of detective story with some biblical undertones and excellent childhood flashbacks, then this is the book for you. If you want to be kinda scared and kinda disgusted, this is also the book for you, and if you just want a really bloody good read, then, you've guessed it, you're gonna want to read this. It's my favourite book of Hill's so far, and the first one that I'm actually really excited to re-read at some point. Now you go.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Devouring Books: Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman

It's been a few weeks since I finished Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, and I still can't get over how much I just resoundingly, consistently, so-many-other-adverbs-ly enjoyed the crap out of it. I think it might just be one of those books that is so entirely my thing that it's almost too much, but also that I don't know is my thing until I'm actually reading it, when it becomes the best thing ever.

I think (know) I might be rambling, so let me start again.

Sum is a really difficult book to categorise because it doesn't quite fit into anything I've read before. It's fiction, but there aren't any set characters. Each chapter (or essay. Or scenario. Or, or, or) is only a couple of pages long, but it doesn't really fit the title of short stories either. To call the tales philosophical essays isn't strictly true because Eagleman isn't exactly trying to prove or argue anything, although maybe each one is a teeny thought experiment. Maybe it's best to just let the subtitle speak for itself- Sum is a book containing Forty Tales from the Afterlives, and that's what it delivers- forty different ideas of what the afterlife could possibly look and feel like, a topic which has as many possibilities as there are people on earth, and then some.

I didn't know I wanted forty different ideas of the afterlife until I read this book. My own assumption is that death is pretty much the end of consciousness, and since that's kind of depressing, I try not to think about it and just get on with my life. This book has left me far more open to the thought that, although I still don't really believe that there is anything more, just thinking about what there could be is an incredibly rich and interesting topic that I definitely haven't paid enough mind to. This collection of what-ifs manages to be thoughtful and funny and interesting, and strangely it's a lot more about how we choose to live and think than it is about death. For instance, there's the musing that the afterlife only exists for sinners and it's kind of a dull suburban nightmare because God (or whoever you like) knows how fucking boring eternity is and doesn't want to subject those who lived good lives to have to suffer it forever.


Whilst I was reading, and upon finishing this book, I pretty much spent all my days talking about it to people, relaying scenarios and saying 'wouldn't that be COOL' or 'isn't that SO WEIRD' or 'That would be so sad'. I could genuinely feel my brain expanding with this whole new way of thinking that I was absorbing, and brain expansion is pretty much my favourite feeling in the world. I'm sure there is a flip side of readers who would find this book maybe offensive (since it rarely sticks to any religious ideas of the afterlife- and if it does then it's still not what people expect) or not that interesting to them, but for me, it was everything. And kind of still is.

I think I've written this review in my head a hundred times better than it has actually come out, but I hope it still does justice to how much I FREAKING loved this book. If you're even a little bit interested in thinking differently and being entertained and just... interested about something, then this is the book you have to go for. It's basically the best thing I've read this year, even if it is so freaking hard to categorise and write about. Go. And. Read. It.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Sunday Sundries: Back from the Not-Quite Dead

Well hello there, and thank you for joining me today! I'm baaaaaack and ready to grouch.

Did you miss me? You probably didn't miss me, but interestingly enough I missed me. Which is to say this: when I was considering my operation and the two weeks off work it would allow me, I thought great! I'm going to have this thing fixed which should also rid me of actual pain in my everyday life, PLUS I can read all the things and watch all the movies and generally have a great time with all these days all to myself!

As I'm sure you can probably tell, it didn't quite work out that way.
The only surgery I'd had before this was removal of my wisdom teeth, and after that I felt a bit sore in the mouth (obviously...) and kind of sleepy for a while, but mostly I remember watching a lot of Netflix guilt-free and being brought strawberry milkshakes and generally having a gay old time (ish). This was not like that. This was like... I felt so tired constantly, I was in a lot of pain and the painkillers made me feel sick, I had to stay in hospital overnight which FREAKED ME OUT (and all I can say about it is, thank god for internet friends in different time zones because if you think you're going to be able to sleep in a hospital then you are kidding yourself) and generally I did not have a gay old time at all.

But anyway. I don't really mean to dwell on the unpleasantness of it, and I really do feel a lot better now (although, because I am me, I have now somehow picked up a cold and I can't really breathe out of my nose at all. But I'm not in operation-related pain anymore!) I guess I've just been thinking about how weird it is that I thought that recovery would involve a lot of reading and Gilmore Girls and movies when in reality I couldn't concentrate on books OR EVEN Gilmore Girls (I know) and it was kind of a struggle staying upright for any prolonged period of time for a while there. I'm also the worst because when I feel ill like that I feel like it's never going to get any better ever, even though DUH that's what recovery is all about.

Like honestly, I need help.

But anyway! From about Thursday I started to feel more like myself again, which actually did mean binge watching Gilmore Girls, reading most of a Stephen King book in a day, watching the whole new series of Black Mirror over two evenings (have you seen it? I have THOUGHTS) and yesterday going to see Aladdin onstage which is actually even better than a normal day out that normal me would normally have (say normal again). Things are looking up, is what I'm saying.

I hope your Sunday is improved with the amazing discovery that recovering from surgery is not really very easy. I am signed off for another couple of days this week, then I'm back to work trying to figure out if I remember how to do this whole life thing (let's hope so, cause I gotta). I've had so many lovely texts and messages from people while I've been recovering and it's been important to me to ask the people who care about how I'm doing how they're doing to. So tell me, how have you been?

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Devouring Stephen King (As Richard Bachman): Blaze

Oh, Blaze. I could cry just thinking about it and maybe I'm gonna. Who can say.

I don't always read introductions to books (because more often than not they are riddled with spoilers), but the introduction King has written for Blaze was pretty much crucial to my enjoyment of the book. From it, I learned that Blaze is essentially the fifth of the four early Bachman books, never published but written even before Carrie. This meant that any instances of clunky writing (and there were a few) and anything I didn't really like I could essentially overlook because, hey, the kid was young, give him a break! He ALSO, however, says that the story is a kind of homage to Of Mice and Men, and even though I might not have made that connection myself, I fully read it with that in mind which made every single page of it fully poignant and just sobbbbsiiiiiigh.

So, the book. King's Bachman books tend to be more psychological than his horror ones, so even though they can still be horrible, there's not really anything supernatural going on in them (think Misery, not The Shining). They also tend to be a little bit social justice-y something which King, again in the introduction, sounds a little bit ashamed of, but there's no need to be. Rarely when he gets up on his high horse does he overdo it, and in my opinion he doesn't overdo it in Blaze either.

Now, the story I guess? We are introduced to Blaze as he's in the process of stealing a car, a thing which you think would make him a bad guy but in fact, as we are to discover through the whole book, he's really just a kinda nice guy who does bad things because he's not too bright. We also discover that he's not too bright because his dad threw him down the stairs a few times when he was little, and this is just the first of many things that make Blaze's actions not really his own fault.

Blaze is the kind of guy who is easily coerced into things, but also the kind of guy who really should be being taken care of by the state. He's not smart enough to remember to change his underwear, and he's not smart enough to not hold up the same gas station two nights in a row. His closest friend George has recently been killed in some crime related drama (if you're thinking I can't remember exactly why, you would be 100% correct) and Blaze is completely alone, reliant on the life of crime that he's learnt to be reliant on to get by.

Like genuinely, it's really fucking sad.

The story is pretty much told both through Blaze's present actions of his one big score, and his past upbringing that explains exactly how he's got into such a position in the first place. This means that, even as Blaze is doing very morally questionable things (and, rest assured, he does quite a lot of that) there's always an overriding feeling of sympathy for him because the odds seem as stacked against him as they have for all the rest of his life. The thing you come away from this book with, is that Blaze is essentially a good guy, it's just the world that has been so consistently shitty for him because (and here's the Bachman book part) the world is basically just a pile of shit.

So yes. This is maybe not the best book to read if you're feeling kind of shitty about the world, but regardless it is a pretty good one. I'm tempted to call it my favourite Bachman book but I don't think that would be fair considering I read the other 5 literally 5 years ago (yeah. Wow.) and can hardly remember them. So let's just say, I liked this book and will allow you to read it.

Monday, 10 October 2016

The Master and Margarita-along, Weeks 1 & 2

GUYYYYYYYYS! So I definitely dropped the ball last week, but I am here now to join in the readalong-goodness with a vengeance (except not a vengeance, something much nicer, like... glitter? Let's go with that)

Glittery cat for literally no reason

Anyway... As well as failing to post last week, I also read, like, two of the readalong posts (I know, I'm the worst, let it go) so I have to ask DOES LITERALLY ANYONE KNOW WHAT'S HAPPENING? I mean, genuinely, I've read some strange books in my time but all I can fathom from this one is that the devil's in town and everyone's going crazy (or, I guess, seems to be going crazy when in fact actual weird things are genuinely happening to them) and, like, people are being teleported thousands of miles away in seconds for some unknowable reason?

So no, it's not confusing at all

Having said that, the devil has a vodka-drinking cat so I guess that in that case everything is fine and, I mean,

I can have the kitty that understands my soul? No?

*Puts on actual analysis pants* I suspect I don't really know enough about either communism OR religion to understand a lot of what The Master and Margarita is trying to say, but I imagine the kind of whiplash I'm getting from the story throwing me ALL OVER THE PLACE has something of the feel of living in a country where, just as you think you're learning the rules, new ones overtake them immediately and you're right back to where you started. ALSO I guess that in a country where atheism is the state religion (religion being the opiate of the masses and all, at least before TV was invented, sorry Karl) it would be pretty easy for a theoretical devil to run riot because literally no one is going to believe you've seen the devil. Like, at all. 

And so. We've met the Master now, every minor character seems to be being institutionalised, and the devil and his buddies are... Putting on shows and pranking everyone so that they find themselves outside naked? THAT'S NOT VERY NICE, DEVIL. We ended this section on another trip back to Jerusalem and that's a Jesus thing, right? Like Yeshua is kind of Jesus and we're all ok with that? (I'm genuinely asking here, people, because I have close to no idea what's going on omg)

So yeah. In case any of that sounded like I'm not enjoying the book, I kind of really am, I just have no idea what's going on or where anything's headed, just like MY WHOLE FREAKING LIFE. It's a feeling I'm comfortable with, is what I'm saying, and I'm cool with finding out wth is actually happening here (even if I suspect we may not, which I guess I'm also ok with). 

Friday, 7 October 2016

Devouring Stephen King: Lisey's Story

As I mentioned in my round up of last month's reads, it pretty much took me three months to finish Lisey's Story. If you want to get super technical about it, it took me about two months to read about a quarter of it, before I finished the whole thing in September. Part of it is definitely to do with its size- it's a hefty 650+ pages, so I didn't really want to be lugging it around with me, ya know?- but that wasn't it's only problem. I mean, come on, I read all 800 pages of A Game of Thrones in like a week because I cared, so obviously I'm capable. But this book. Whoa.

First and foremost, this book is called Lisey's Story. This mistakenly made me believe that the book would be about Lisey and her struggles and life and whatnot, but really the book should be called 'Lisey's dead husband Scott's story, told through Lisey's memories of things he told her before he died'. This isn't necessarily a criticism, although making Lisey the one with an interesting/devasting past would have been JUST FINE too, Steve, but the title makes it seem like her life is going to be more central to the plot when really she's almost the passive receptacle for her dead husband's memories. Which is obviously real nice. Putting that aside as much as possible though, the book just starts SO slowly. Lisey is recalling and recounting a particular incident in her and Scott's lives, and it just seems to take so freaking long to tell. I honestly felt like she told the same thing in three different ways, and after that I wasn't so keen to pick the book up again for any real length of time. Because ughhhhhh.

The book does pick up though, and it kind of runs along two paths- the stuff that happened in the past, told through Lisey's memory, and the stuff that's happening now. The way I see it, the stuff that's happening now (which, by the way, is also mostly to do with Scott and not Lisey) is kind of dull and boring even if murder is threatened, whereas the stuff that happened in the past seems a lot more vital and interesting (and, indeed, it does become the most vital to the plot in the end). Please note once again- the story in the past belongs to Scott, whereas the story in the present belongs (mostly) to Lisey. I guess housewives don't get to be interesting on their own merit in King's world?

But anyway. Like I said it picks up, and I finished it in a rush after being reluctant to get into it. King's world building is pretty special, and he has created within Lisey's Story a pretty special world that I could instantly and vividly imagine. In one sense, the way I feel about that world and about the book in general reminds me pretty much of how I felt about The Night Circus- the setting is fabulous, but the story isn't all that. And yet, I still think there might be something in Lisey's Story, that I'll come back to it in a few years and find it better than I did the first time round, in a way I don't think is true for, say, The Tommyknockers or Dreamcatchers, or any of the real stinkers King has written.

Lisey's Story isn't a REAL stinker, is what I'm saying.

Probably my favourite parts of the book involve Lisey as a sister. She really comes alive as a person in her own right when she's interacting with her sisters, and its when the book shows the human reality of family and obligation and of what that sometimes has to mean. It's this kind of shit that makes it pass the Bechdel test (not that that applies to books but whatever) and it's not like that's just thrown in alongside a romantic storyline, basically all the living love in this book is between Lisey and her sisters, even if it doesn't always look the way it's supposed to.

And so. The conclusion. This isn't one of King's books but it's far from my least favourite. I could have done with a real woman's story rather than a pseudo one, but setting that aside, it is still a pretty good story. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I've really been enjoying all the King books since the last Dark Tower one being new to me, because I feel genuinely scared by them- another reason I finished this so slowly is because I couldn't bear to still be reading it when it was very dark outside. The King pilgrimage continues, my devotion is still unwavering.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

RIP XI Book IV: The Collector by John Fowles

I'm having a bit of a weird RIP this year, because none of the books I've been reading have been purely based in horror. They're all a little bit chilling and undoubtedly horrible, but apart from The Silence of the Lambs, none of them have really made me jump in the way I associate scary things to do. But that is not to say that they haven't scared me.

The Collector is maybe the best example of this so far. The book starts off fairly innocently with the first person narration of a man who would probably describe himself as 'a fairly normal bloke'. His lack of normalcy is probably best defined by one of the three following features: 1. He has no friends, 2. He collects butterflies, or 3. He has just won the pools, and it is the last of these three that really puts the whole story into motion. He describes, as if it's the most normal thing in the world, his interest in, and then obsession with, AND THEN kidnapping of art student Miranda. 

It's really that fact that he thinks that everything he's doing is completely normal that makes the story so scary. Given access into his mind, we understand that he truly believes he's creating a wonderful home for Miranda, buying her everything she could possibly want or need, and just omitting from his mind that he's creating an terrifying underground dungeon for a woman who he kidnaps and takes away from her friends and family and everything she's ever known. It's as if, winning this money and being able to buy everything he wants makes him feel entitled to having literally everything, even people, who, as the book makes pretty clear, he believes he can collect as easily and painlessly as he does butterflies.

Since his narration is so entitled and calm, you almost get lulled into believing with him that what he's doing is sort of ok. He isn't violent OR sexually violent (or sexual. At all) with Miranda, and because we're in his head, his thoughts that she should maybe just be nice to him because he isn't really doing anything that bad sort of start to permeate your own thinking until you start to wonder whether you're an ok person or not because Jesus, you really can't be. BUT THEN (and I guess this is sort of a spoiler, although it's a large chunk of the book so I wonder how much it really matters but if you're like 'omg tell me nothing about the book ever' then look away, yeah) the story does a 180 and you get Miranda's side of the story and it jolts you back into the mindset of a normal human being, making all of this guy's actions look messed up and horrible, as they always should have been.

Miranda's narrative is really the best of this book, at least for me, because it draws into focus how we should have been seeing her kidnapper all along, and also how she manages to cope with life in his dungeon. The contrast between them is dazzling, and made most clear when you realise that Miranda lives, at least while under his control, mostly within her mind and memories and ideas, which only helps to make it seem clearer that he has almost none of these, or at least none that we are privy too. It is through Miranda that Fowles is able to talk about class and gender and art and it all seems perfectly reasonable that she is thinking about this stuff because, you know, what else is there to do down there? Exactly.

I obviously can't really talk about the ending (my disdain for spoilers doesn't go quite that far) but let's just say it's good. It's really good. It's so good, even if I forget all the rest of the book, it's definitely the part I'll remember. It's pretty much the only way the book could have ended, and is just so fitting and oh my god I have to stop because I'm going to blurt out what it is because I really just want to discuss it and ok no, I can't do that. No.

But did I mention that it's really good? Cause it is.

So, in the end, is this book. Chilling in how normally everything is treated, and then interesting, and just lots of good things to recommend it to prospective readers. It's definitely scary enough for a RIP read, but it's also interesting enough for a read at just about any other time of year too. Definitely worth your time and attention, if you care to give them to it.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Things I Read in September

Is it just me or did September feel really long? I think something screwy happened with time because my sister's 30th birthday was at the start of the month and seemed to take up SO MANY days, but by the time it was over it was only the 7th but it felt like the month was basically over. Am I complaining about September? Not reeeeally, but it felt like a lot of days for nothing that remarkable to happen. I am ready for October to be happening as it is, is what I'm saying.

September was, however, a really good month for reading! I managed to get through 8 books which is ridiculous, AND even more ridiculously, I have reviewed 5 of them and actually plan to actually review the other 3 as well. I KNOW. Who even am I? 

But wait, doesn't that make this post kind of redundant, I hear you cry? Well, maybe. But these are easy and pleasant to do, and it's nice to reflect on my months reading with a little trip through the books, so that's exactly what I'm doing. 

Spinster by Kate Bolick
The more I think about this book, the more I'm not sure how much I liked it at all. The stuff about the lives of five famous spinsters was pretty great, the autobiographical stuff I could have done without. Review is here, for what its worth.

French Milk by Lucy Knisley
I nearly made my way through this twice before the month was out because I just. Love. It. So. Damn. Much! Pretty and interesting and you really can't do better than many many descriptions of food, can you? Or, at least, I can't. Review is here.

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
This is definitely one of the books I've had on my shelves the longest, and it was absolutely definitely worth the wait. If some of the thrills were removed by having seen the film last year, then that was made up for by a wonderful lady friendship that the film omits, and by basically being able to carry the film around in my pocket and watch (read) it on the bus. Yes, I understand that there are magical devices that let you actually watch films on the go now, but shush up and recognise what I'm trying to say. This book is well worth the read, even if you know what's coming. Review is here, along with disturbing(ly attractive) Anthony Hopkins gifs.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Slightly chilling, mostly upsetting, pretty great. If I maybe didn't enjoy Rebecca as much as on previous readings, that's only an indication of just how much I loved it beforehand. It's still pretty good reading, and I think DEFINITELY worth having a first read of because of reasons *all the significant eye movements*. Review is here.

Blindness by Jose Saramago
Epic and disgusting and heartbreaking and absolutely not easy reading. I'm read Blindness because I wanted a good old fashioned dystopia, and whilst it kind of is one of those, it also doesn't have anything resembling any kind of society because take away everyone's sight and what do we have left? If nothing else, this book made me think about all the things we take for granted because we can see, and has done nothing to quell a very specific fear I have about going blind someday because omg all my favourite activities involve seeing in some way. But anyway. Longer and slightly less panicking review here.

The Collector by John Fowles
And on to the books I haven't reviewed yet! The Collector was very odd, and not at all the book I was expecting, but in the end it was exactly the book I wanted to read. I wasn't too sure at the beginning (which is made clearer by the fact that I read the first twenty or so pages years ago and then stopped) but the middle and end more than make up for it. I'm still a little bit haunted by it.

Limey's Story by Stephen King
I just realised that I started reading Lisey's Story in July, which should give you some indication of how I felt about it. I had a really hard time starting it off, and had a hard time liking Lisey (which is annoying, since it's her story [kind of]) but in the end, I feel confident in saying, I kind of pretty much liked it quite a bit. But more on that later, just give me time, yeah?

Blaze by Stephen King (ish)
And, of course, after like 3 months of Lisey's Story, I finished Blaze in less than a week. It's a previously unpublished Bachman book that King would have published before he was outed as Bachman but didn't get the chance to. And it kind of shows, in that it's a little rusty, but it's a pretty endearing and upsetting book, and for a King scholar like me (ho ho) it was fascinating to read an early work at this stage and actually be able to firstly see how much his writing has improved, but also to see hallmarks of his later (scarier) work in this earlier (only scary in a social issues way) novel. A good time was had by all, let us say.

And that was my September! I started the month of really strongly and just lost it a bit in the last week of the month because I started Japanese lessons (!) and have to dedicate some time to, you know, actual learning now rather than just reading fun books for fun. Sigh. As I have already mentioned, I will be having an operation in October, so in allllll those lovely days off work (apart from the writhing in pain and whatnot) I suspect I shall be mostly reading and watching all the things on Netflix I should have watched already (Stranger Things and Luke Cage, I am coming for you!)

What have you read this month? Anything I should know about?