2019 End of Year Book Survey

The first day of the year is the anniversary of this little old blog, and today it turns seven years old. I’ve always posted this survey as a way of marking the occasion and feeling proud of another book blogging year in the bag.

In 2019 I had big ambitions, but didn’t stretch far enough for them. That’s fine. I didn’t give up on things completely, and instead I put my focus in other places. I read 22 books, six of which were short comic books. I wasn’t hugely active in the bookish community this year. So removed a few more questions from this survey than usual, because it seemed easier than fumbling for answers I just don’t have.

Thanks, as always, to The Perpetual Page-Turner for hosting this annual shindig. Drop me a comment below and let me know if you’ve done this survey too!

2019 Reading Stats

Number of books read: 22
Number of re-reads: 1
Genre read most: Science fiction just pipped it with 10, but fantasy was a close second with 8. Or we could just say SF&F with 18?

Best in Books

Best book you read in 2019?
A lot of strong contenders this year. Lots of fours stars. But there were only a could of books I gave five stars to, so the title of “best” has to go to The Motherless Oven.

Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love more but didn’t?
Sadly, Record of a Spaceborn Few. Still a lovely book in many ways, but I didn’t have the all consuming love for it that I had for the first two in the series.

Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?
Maybe House of Many Ways, because I’d been a little disappointed with Castle in the Air and so had put off reading it, but it was wonderful!

Book you “pushed” the most people to read (and they did)?
I didn’t really push any books on people this year, though my partner finally started the Wayfairs series and has devoured them, so I’m quite chuffed about that.

Best series you started in 2019? Best sequel of 2019? Best series ender of 2019?
Started: The Motherless Oven, obviously.
Sequel: The Ask and the Answer. I can’t believe how quickly I read that.
Ender: The Wheel of Osheim. Gosh, I still miss Jalan and Snorri so much.

Favourite new author you discovered in 2019?
Probably B. Mure. I was captivated by Ismyre and can’t wait to read the next two books in the series later this year.

Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?
I think I stayed pretty firmly within my comfort zone this year, with only two outliers. Of those two, I preferred Little Fires Everywhere.

Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?
The Shining. Because even though I’ve read it before, I couldn’t get enough of it. I put it down, but only for a short reprieve from the tension!

Book you read in 2019 that you would be most likely to re-read next year?
As a rule, i’m not one for re-reading books. But if I had to revisit one of them, I’d have to choose Ismyre for its quiet, beautiful, calmness.

Favourite cover of a book you read in 2019?
If this book gets no much other love from me, it will certainly get the best cover… it’s the reason I bought it, after all! No Matter the Wreckage.

Most memorable character of 2019?
A tough one. There were some wonderful characters, but no one stands out and says, “Pick me!” But i’m going to pick Charmain from House of Many Ways, because she was fun, and lovely, and stubborn.

Most beautifully written book read in 2019?
Definitely Ismyre. It’s beautiful visually, but the story is also beautifully soft and quiet and wonderful.

Most thought-provoking/life-changing book of 2019?
Hmm. The Motherless Oven was definitely a thought-provoking series, trying (if you want) to figure out the deeper, hidden meanings behind the seemingly random parts of the world.

Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2019 to finally read?
Has to be Doctor Sleep. I bought it as soon as it came out in paperback, but it wasn’t until I saw the trailer for the film in October that I thought, “Shit, I should read that!”

Favourite passage/quote from a book you read in 2019?
I can’t decide—it’s a tie:

Everyone’s lost. Any direction will take you where you’re going. You just have to hope that’s where you want to be.

Mark Lawrence – The Wheel of Osheim

What was better – a constant safeness that never grew and never changed, or a life of reaching, building, striving, even though you knew you’d never be completely satisfied?

Becky Chambers – Record of a Spaceborn Few

Shortest and longest book you read in 2019?
Shortest: The Goddess Mode comics, which were about 20-30 pages each.
Longest: The Wheel of Osheim at 672 pages.

Book that shocked you the most?
Even That Wildest Hope, because it was very weird, and I love that shit; I never knew what to expect!

OTP of the year (you will go down with this ship!)?
I have to choose Todd and Viola from The Ask and the Answer. It’s not necessarily a romantic relationship, but their connection, trust, and belief in each other is unshakable and I love them for it.

Favourite non-romantic relationship of the year?
Jalan and Snorri in The Liar’s Key and The Wheel of Osheim, obviously. BFFs for liiiiiife!

Favourite book you read in 2019 from an author you’ve read previously?
Rocannon’s World, because Ursula le Guin is flawless.

Best book you read in 2019 that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else?
The Goddess Mode series. My partner bought them for himself as they were released and he thought i’d enjoy them… which… yeah, I did.

Best 2019 debut you read?
Not sure how many debuts I did read, but the best has to be Even That Wildest Hope, because I love to read something different!

Best world building/most vivid setting you read this year?
The will always be Becky Chambers, and this year that’s Record of a Spaceborn Few. While I didn’t love it as much as previous books, that wasn’t for lack of incredible world building.

Book that put a smile on your face/was the most FUN to read?
I’ll say Women of Wonder, because it was great to read female-written science fiction short stories, and because in there were some aspects that haven’t dated well, but it was almost more interesting for that.

Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2019?
Oh, The Ask and the Answer, no question. Sobbed my heart out a couple of times.

Hidden gem of the year?
Ismyre. It’s just. So. Freaking. Lovely.

Book that crushed your soul?
No Matter the Wreckage crushed the part of my soul that wants to fall in love with poetry…

Most unique book you read in 2019?
Most certainly Even that Wildest Hope. It was like nothing I’d ever read before, and while I didn’t love every story in the collection, every story stayed with me in some way.

Book that made you the most mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?
Okay, I’ll say Goddess Mode, because we got them individually as they were released and they are full of adverts and urgh.

Blogging Life

Favourite post you wrote in 2019?
My Book vs Film post about The Shining, because I had a lot of fun with that, putting my film degree to some use, finally!

Favourite bookish related photo you took in 2019?
Another tie, because I really love both of these photos so much… Little Fires Everywhere and House of Many Ways:

Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?
Mid-year I got a new job which freed up some time for me, and I really wanted to use that to do more with my blog. But I felt the pressure a little too much, as well as taking on other commitments, and if anything I’ve actually done less with my blog. Which is disappointing, but on wards and upwards.

Most popular post this year on your blog (whether it be by comments or views)?
By views: The Wheel of Osheim
By comments: Record of a Spaceborm Few

Post you wished got a little more love?
Book vs Film: The Shining, because I enjoyed writing it and I want to make it into a series.

Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
My Goodreads reading challenge, but that’s it.

Looking Ahead

One book you didn’t get to in 2019 but will be your number one priority in 2020?
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham and Sea of Dust by Robert C Cargill have been near the top of my to-read pile for ages, but kept getting pushed down in favour of other books, so I’m going to try to actually read them this year!

Book you are most anticipating for 2020?
Can’t wait to get a paperback copy of To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers when it’s released in April.

One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging life in 2020?
Just write more. I wrote very few non-review posts in 2019, which is fine, but I want to pick them back up again 2020.

The Book of Forks

Title: The Book of Forks

Author: Rob Davis

Summary: Castro Smith finds himself imprisoned within the mysterious Power Station, writing his Book of Forks while navigating baffling daily meetings with Poly, a troubled young woman who may be his teacher, his doctor, his prison guard . . . or something else entirely. Meanwhile, back home, Vera and Scarper’s search for their missing friend takes them through the chaotic war zone of the Bear Park and into new and terrifying worlds. With The Book of Forks, Rob Davis completes his abstract adventure trilogy by stepping inside Castro’s disintegrating mind to reveal the truth about the history of the world, the meaning of existence, and the purpose of kitchen scales.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: The third and final book in Davis’ The Motherless Oven trilogy, I couldn’t wait to get my hands and eyeballs on it. I was sad my copy didn’t come with a bookplate, as I had hoped to frame and display all three, but the book is obviously more important.

This book has as much weird and wonderfulness as the first two. With the main characters venturing out beyond the boarders of The Bear Park, where (almost) all of them have lived for their entire lives, we get to see new places and new ways in which these worlds are strange, bizarre, and fascinating. Guerilla postmen, exploding people, diseases as gods, and rotting corpses on the street. And of course we see more of Castro’s book (can you guess what it’s called?), which explores the history and nature of this world in all its peculiarness.

The art, as ever, is beautiful. Simple, but with such amazing detail. The faces are definitely my favourite, varying from plain and unobtrusive in wider panels, slightly more detailed in more medium panels, to perfectly detailed with amazing subtleties in expression and character in the really close panels. I could look at the faces alone for quite a while. Pages from Castro’s book are presented as a kind of divide between chapters and two alternating storylines, which worked well, and I loved the layout and illustrations, as well as the contrasting white-on-black of those pages.

People accept whatever absurdity surrounds them as reality. And yet, to question this absurdity is to become absurd.

I five-star loved the first two books in this series, but unfortunately this book didn’t hit me with quite the same amazement. I really enjoyed this one, it just… It’s longer than either of the first two, but it also feels like less happens for some reason. I think the story races to its conclusion, trying to tie all the threads together, but is also trying to cram in a lot of new things (Castro’s personal story, his book, the other death states, the postmen…). It just doesn’t fully work. And as much as i enjoyed the pages from Castro’s book, they were often a little… much. Whole pages of text in a graphic novel, and switching from panels to full bodies of text and back again made for slow progress, an inconsistent reading pattern, and loss of focus. I loveloveloved Castro’s insightfulness and theories on the strange things the characters in this world accept as normal, but this book made me realise I loved them in context and in brief. Entire pages with numerous (useless) footnotes failed to keep my interest as high.

Overall I do love this series, and it will certainly be one I’d love to revisit. Likely i will choose to read this installment in two halves–the story told in panels, then all the pages from Castro’s book separately. I think I would enjoy it a lot more that way.

Doctor Sleep

Title: Doctor Sleep

Author: Stephen King

Summary: Following a childhood haunted by terrifying events at the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance has been drifting for decades.

Finally, he settles into a job at a nursing home where he draws on his remnant ‘shining’ power to help people pass on.

Then he meets Abra Stone, a young girl with the brightest ‘shining’ ever seen. But her gift is attracting a tribe of paranormals. They may look harmless, old and devoted to their Recreational Vehicles, but The True Knot live off the ‘steam’ that children like Abra produce.

Now Dan must confront his old demons as he battles for Abra’s soul and survival…

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I re-read The Shining before i dived into this book, and I’m honestly not sure if that was a good thing to do or not. Immediately it’s obvious that King’s writing style has improved in the years between books. It’s just more natural and I was instantly drawn into the world, the familiar characters, and the aftermath of The Shining. My hopes were quickly set quite high.

The Shining is a tough act to follow, and obviously King knew that. Doctor Sleep felt quieter, to me… and I liked that. It’s not trying to out shine (pun intended!) its predecessor, but do something different while expanding on the supernatural lore of ‘the shining’, as well as the nature of addiction. And the first half of the book had me hooked. Seeing Danny Torrence as a boy, dealing with the trauma from The Overlook and the ghosts that followed him (figuratively and literally); growing up and dealing with the trauma less-well, turning to drink. The story really gets going when Dan finds himself in Frazier, knowing this is where he needs to be.

This book has a lot more characters than The Shining. The Shining was limited to the Torrances–a family of three–and a few supporting characters(/ghosts), but Doctor Sleep has Dan, Dan’s friends and colleagues, Abra and her family, as well as the numerous members of the True Knot. They are a lot to keep track of at first, but the main players soon stand out. Billy, the first person Dan meets in Frazier, was an instant favourite for me. He was just so pure and lovely, and i was immediately thinking, “he’d better survive this book!” Another favourite was Concetta, Abra’s grandmother. A poet, a strong and independent woman, and just so level headed and no-nonsense.

Less-great aspects to the characters were the fact that it was the men who see all the action. It’s Dan, his AA BFF, and Abra’s dad who road trip around and confront some bad guys. All the friends Dan makes in Frazier are blokes. We get Abra, who’s strong and sassy and takes no shit. I loved her. But we also have her mum, who’s shown as being very emotional and reactive, compared to her husband. Even Wendy, Dan’s mum and determined fighter from The Shining, is reduced to a woman who needs to be protected by her young son and who smokes herself to death… she deserved so much more. And there’s Rose the Hat and Snakebite Andi… the crazy evil ladies. And of course at least one of them needs a sexual abuse back story that’s passed off as character development. In fact there were several points were all the female characters (bar Concetta; she was too old, but yes including 14-year-old Abra) were unnecessarily sexualised. Might have just been a throw away line… no big deal, you might say… expect there’s no point to it! It’s a throw away line with no purpose but to frustrate the shit out of me and give a hard side-eye the author.

As much as it was interesting to learn more about ‘the shining’ and Abra’s abilities, what I really loved most about the book was the exploration of the human horrors. So, very much what i liked about The Shining, now i come to think about it. Dan’s alcoholism, the depths he finds himself in and his struggle to claw himself out, his AA journey and the friends he makes along the way, and most of all the secret he keeps for so, so long and how it ate at him. It was that story line and its conclusion that i was most invested in and most emotional about.

The True Knot were a fascinating new aspect to the book. An old group (in more ways than one) of people with certain abilities themselves, who travel around the country and feed off of the ‘steam’ that children with ‘the shine’ possess. Rose the Hat, their leader, was especially intriguing and equal parts wonderful and terrible. The group’s entire history and way of life was interesting, and I would love to have read more, perhaps got to know a few more characters. Where the True Knot fell down for me, is as the horrifying bad guys. Yes, they were the bad guys, and yes, they were horrifying… but at no point did i think they’d have a chance of winning. As the reader, i know we know the bad guys aren’t going to win, but the stakes have to be high enough that i worry for the good guys. I was never worried for the good guys. Splitting the group up, a botched kidnapping, along with Rose the Hat’s constant poor decisions and gradual decline into rage and irrationality… the stakes were never high enough.

When i re-read The Shining i had to put the book down and take breaks because it made me so anxious and only increased the tension with every page. In contrast, i found myself putting Doctor Sleep down and not picking it back up for several days at a time. I was enjoying it, sure, but the successful outcome for the good guys was so clearly inevitable that the ride to get there wasn’t that enticing.

The last niggling thing… Abra’s emotions. The rage and the strength were clear throughout the book, and that alone would be interesting to explore. That would make Dan’s advise to her at the end of the book perfect and fitting. No, the thing that niggles me is that smile, those cocky lines, and her enjoyment. She didn’t simply get angry and need to break something… she got angry and wanted to hurt someone. By about two thirds of the way through the book alarm bells were ringing for me. Abra was so, so powerful, but every time she grinned, got sassy, or expressed pleasure in her actions I recoiled a little bit. Honestly, Abra was the scariest thing about this book. I really thought that would have been addressed more than it was at the end of the book. If King isn’t planning another sequel that deals with a grow up Abra turned bad, then this book really dropped the ball on her character.

Overall I did enjoy this book, mostly Dan’s story and battle with alcoholism, and seeing him make a life for himself. I would be interested in another book with an adult Abra… to see how adulthood treats her, like we’ve now seen for Dan. For all the things i’ve moaned about, the things i loved about the book, i loved.

Book vs Film: The Shining

I’ve written about film adaptations before, and how sometimes they can be better than their source material. But recently I decided I wanted to go a little deeper, and write more full-on analyses of books verses their cinematic counterparts. I do have a film degree, so I’ve decided to put it to use by creating this series. Don’t know how often it will be–at my whimsy, currently. But this was fun to write, and I want to do this again. So I will.

In an attempt to keep things fair and orderly, I’m breaking the comparison down into four broad sections: tone, characters, story, and craft. With The Shining, at least, I feel that these are the main areas to cover. When I do more of these in the future, I may end up adding or taking away sections. I’m open to improving the formula.

Book: The Shining Author: Steven King Year: 1977
Film: The Shining Director: Stanley Kubrick Year: 1980

I’ve been a horror fan since I was a (very) young kid, getting my teeth into countless horror films and books before I was even 10. So, when I tell you I wasn’t impressed with The Shining when I first watched it (years before I first read the book), just know it wasn’t because I didn’t like horror or hadn’t already enjoyed a hell of a lot of horror films. I can’t remember the specifics of what I thought at the time, because it was so long ago. I just remember the film feeling pretty… empty and insubstantial. And I think I was put off reading the book for a number of years after that. But when I did read the book, I ended up loving it. I found it genuinely scary and several moments in particular have stayed with me since.

When I re-read the book this month, it rekindled my aversion to the film. The film is wildly popular, raved about by cinema critics, and touted as a classic… but I just don’t see it. I discussed it with a few people who also didn’t love the film so much, and decided, in the name of fairness, to give the film a second go too. When the notebook and pen came out, I knew a book vs film analysis was going to be written…

Tone
The tone is what I’m most impressed with from the film. It immediately sets the mood with chilling music and grand, scenic cinematography. And this holds up throughout the film. At a couple of points the music gets a little too high pitched, but overall the music is wonderfully creepy, building the tension and putting me on edge. There are some incredible shots in the film, and in fact the cinematography throughout the film is perfection. It’s one of the first films to have used a steadicam, and it’s used brilliantly. Following Danny racing around the empty hotel in his trike, long single-shot scenes across large rooms, and getting lost in the hedge maze… they look amazing and they also help emphasise the enormous space and how isolated the family are in it.

Of course, the book doesn’t have music or cinematography to help set the mood of the story, only words. But it manages it. The descriptions of the wind howling around the outside of the hotel; the feeling of going from a hotel full of people, to a family of three with lots of space to explore, then gradually to individual isolation from each other; there is also the internal struggles of the characters and how and why they deal with the deteriorating situation. The fact that the book manages to make hose pipes, topiary animals, and playgrounds scary is a sure sign it’s getting the horror right. It also excels at building the tension. At first there is ebb and flow—tension and release—but as the story unfolds the tension mounts until I could barely read a chapter without needing a breather.

Characters
The characters in the book are complex, multifaceted, and sympathetic. I felt for them all, in various ways. Danny’s innocence and emotional maturity, Wendy’s self-awareness and determination, Dick’s easy-going nature and effortless likeability. Jack is by far the most complex character, between who he wants and is trying to be, and who he finds it too easy to be when he stops trying. It is these characters, their histories, and their choices that add meaning and depth to the story. As well as helping to provide a satisfying, but still open to some interpretation, ending to the book.

Meanwhile, in the film… the characters leave a lot to be desired. Danny is a mumbling vacant child reduced to a bit part, Wendy too quickly becomes a simpering mess only capable of screaming and shaking her head, Dick is firm and defensive with no clear reason to want to brave the snowstorms to save the family.

And Jack. He’s not helped being played by Jack Nicholson, who is a strong actor, but has such a singular presence, that he seems to bring very little subtly to the role. His performance later in the film, when Jack has completely lost his mind and is hell bent on murder, is great. However, his performance is lacking at the start of the film; everything he says sounds sarcastic and I can’t tell if he’s supposed to mean what he says or if he’s just a dick character all around.

There is just so little insight into Jack as a character—his troubled childhood, his troubled adulthood, and his troubled fatherhood. We’re given facts—he’s an alcoholic on the wagon and he once dislocated his son’s shoulder—but there is no emotional investment into his character; we see none of his inner turmoil, which was so vital to the story in the book. There is also no investment into the relationship he has with Danny… in fact they don’t even interact other than a few lines and one very awkward, creepy scene where Danny sits on his knee. That relationship was so vital to every member of the family’s character in the book, but in the film it’s barely a footnote.

Ultimately, I didn’t care about any of the characters in the film.

Story
In the book the story is very much linked to the characters. What happens and why depends a lot on the characters’ motivations, beliefs, and choices. Danny knows the Overlook Hotel holds bad things, but loves his dad and understands he needs the job so makes no attempt to stop them from going. Jack being manipulated by the hotel and its ghosts into horrendous acts he would never have be driven to otherwise (or would he?).

The book also has great pacing, switching between character point of views, showing the family’s lives over months, gradually shrinking their world down until it’s just the three of them in the hotel… alone with its own malicious characters.

And of course, all that insight and build up pay off with an ending that is wonderfully weaved together in many ways (foreshadowing and threads of details all paying off), but also very open to interpretation (exactly how much did the hotel manipulate Jack, and how much was who he really was, deep inside?). It left me satisfied while also left me with thoughts to chew on.

The film’s story is much simpler… because it lacks the character depth, and leaves only the cold facts shown on screen. Man goes mad and tries to butcher his family. The end.

One part of the story I really think the film failed on was Tony. Tony is Danny’s “imaginary friend”. In the film he lives in Danny’s mouth and involves a crooked finger for some reason. That is… pretty much the extent of that. Without the full insight into Tony—who he actually is and his relationship with Danny—there seems little point to him in the film? He simply makes Danny seem a bit weirder for his shine… perhaps even possessed.

Another part of the story I can’t fully get behind is killing Dick of immediately after he gets to the Overlook. Now, killing him I’m not opposed to. In all honesty, I half think King chickened out of going that far in the book, after he set it up with Dick sorting his will out immediately before he gets the call from Danny. But. But having him trek all the way across the country, just to stick an axe in his chest the minute he arrives seems… frivolous. He comes to rescue Danny, but they never even set eyes on each other? There is no meaning in his death—it’s just for a bit of gore and to up the minuscule body count.

The pacing also seems very off in the film, with all the main action and turning points taking place in one 24 hour period. It’s very slow and steady for the most part, setting the tone and creeping into this eerie and peculiar place. Then everything happens in a single day. The woman in room 237, Lloyd, Jack drinking, Grady, the pantry, the bathroom… all in one night. It makes the story feel very uneven, and without the character and emotional depth it’s all just for show with no meaning behind it.

Craft
The book, while not King’s best writing, is pretty solid. It’s evocative, memorable, creepy in the right way, and is easy to read without being simplistic. The alternating points of view give a wide insight into the characters and the story, as well as help with pacing and plot progression. There is some subtle and some not-so-subtle foreshadowing, though all the threads play out well even if it was obvious what was coming—it’s how they got there that was the more interesting part.

I also love the parallels between the play Jack is working on and his state of mind. His thoughts on and feelings towards the play mirror that in reality, in a way. Those characters are a way for him to relate to himself and those around him. When he’s feeling in control of himself and genuine with his past, he is in control of his characters and has insight into their motivations. When he’s angry, out of control, and making excuses for his behaviour, he hates his characters and finds their actions insufferable.

Neither the book nor the film aged well in some respects, and namely the use of some choice language. They bother suffer, in that regard, of being a child of their time… but it’s still uncomfortable.

The craftsmanship of the film is a mixed bag. My favourite part is probably the reveal of the writing Jack has been working on. Spending hours and days alone with his type writer, tapping away… When Wendy rifles through the pages to find the same line, typed over and over again in different formats… pages and pages of it. That is the kind of detail and insight the film needed more of. It showcased Jack’s state of mind, without him even being in the room (read: without Nicholson’s eyebrows, stink eye, and sarcastic voice). The only problem is it comes too late in the game, and is conspicuous by its solitariness… there are no other interesting moments like this.

Letting the film down the most, in my opinion, is the acting. I’m not going to blame this all on the actors, either… partly to blame is the dialogue and the directing. A lot of the dialogue is awkwardly unnatural, with long pauses between speech and no natural rhythm of conversation. The best lines where the ones lifted directly from the book, honestly.

There were a couple of jump scares, with a scene cutting abruptly to a title card “Monday” along with a sudden jolt to a high pitched, tense musical note. And I just found those wholly cheap.

The film does have some iconic scenes, and I do believe that is mostly down to cinematography. The bloody elevator, the girls in the corridor, redrum, Jack frozen in the snow… and of course, “Here’s Johnny!” (but… who the fuck is Johnny??)… they’re memorable because they look good. Just a single frame captures the essence of the scene. And I do love the idea of Danny literally running circles around his dad in that hedge maze.

Final Thoughts
I can understand why the film gets talked about so much. Cinematically, it has done some really incredible things. Visually and musically alone I can see why it became a classic. The mood and build up created by the cinematography and soundtrack is incredible… but there is so little to the story of the thing. Ultimately the film feels hollow.

The film is highly over-analysed and theorised about, and I understand that, too… because there is so little of substance. I love an open or ambiguous ending, but the film leaves the audience with so little material to actually work with. Of course, anyone who actually wants the answers could simply read the book…

Ultimately, I would argue the film is very much full of style, but has no substance. It looks stunning, but scratch the surface and there is nothing of significance underneath. And I’ve found this with the other few Kubrick films I’ve seen. I would happily watch any of them again… on mute, in the background, while I was doing something else.

 

Winner: The Book

 

Do you agree? Have any arguments to add? Was there something I missed? Let’s have a friendly debate in the comments!

The Shining

Title: The Shining

Author: Stephen King

Summary: Danny is only five years old but in the words of old Mr Hollorann he is a ‘shiner’, aglow with psychic voltage. When his father becomes caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, Danny’s visions grow out of control.

As winter closes in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seems to develop a life of its own. It is meant to be empty. So who is the lady in room 217 and who are the masked guests going up and down in the elevator? And why do the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive?

Somewhere, somehow, there is an evil force in the hotel–and that too is being to shine…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I first read this book about 15 years ago. I loved it then and (spoiler:) i love it now. I decided to re-read it ahead of reading Doctor Sleep for the first time, and I’m really glad i did. I remembered part of the book really well, but other parts were a total blur. It was wonderful to re-visit the scenes i loved enough to remember, and the story was still suspenseful enough because I couldn’t recall all the details of what happened.

The main thing I remembered from when I first read the book was how genuinely scary it was. The particular moments that stayed with me had been the topiary animals and the fire hose. On this re-read those moments were still scary, but there were more scary moments. The tunnel in the snowy playground, the lift whirling into life in the middle of the night, the wasps. But more than that, I think this time I had more appreciation for the more human horrors. Jack’s alcoholism (and, underneath that, his deep insecurities), his father’s abusiveness, his mother’s passivity, and Wendy’s history with her mother and how she could see that playing out again in herself. As much as this book has horror and supernatural elements, it has human issues at its heart.

I loved all of the characters, to some extent. Danny was so smart and pure for his five years, with this psychic ability he didn’t understand. In the hands of an adult with more information this whole story could have ended much quicker… or have not taken place at all. Having all the knowledge and so little of the understanding in the hands of a child feels heavy and meaningful. Dick Hollorann was a clear favourite. He was so genuine and lovely, instantly connecting with Danny and having the drive to do everything he could for a kid he’d met for a hour several months ago. Wendy. Wendy i love, and i love her growth over the book from “Danny’s mum” and “Jack’s wife” to a strong, smart woman kicking as much arse as she needed to to keep herself and her son safe. From flashbacks and early stages of the book, she seemed too complacent and reluctant to rock the boat. But when shit gets real she steps up without question and does what she needs to.

And then, of course, there’s Jack. I love who Jack wants to me, who he has the potential to be, and who he almost is right at the start of the book. As the story developed, I slowly began to hate Jack… but in a way that I loved and was really well done. He begins in a good place–despite some poor choices ending him up in a difficult situation, he seems ready to move on and start again. He obviously loves his wife and kid and wants to do right by them. But as we slowly learn more, exactly, of Jack’s past and as the time spent isolated in the hotel increases, he becomes more and more of a horrible, self-centred, egotistical maniac.

Now, the thing i love most about this book is the possibilities. There are never, really, any definitive answers. I can see several possible reasons for what happens in this book… and i accept them all. One, the Overlook and the evilness contained within it completely manipulated Jack and forced him into the actions he took. Two, the Overlook was able to manipulate Jack and get him to do the things he did because Jack already had the potential to be that person; to some degree he thought and felt those horrible things and the hotel then amplified them and drove him to depths he might never had reached without its influence. Three, the Overlook has very little or no supernatural evil spirits and it was all simply cabin fever that drove Jack mad and induced a group hallucination. And really, anywhere along that scale. There are details and moments that could point in favour of one explanation or another, but I really don’t think there is anything to state definitively what happened. And i LOVE that. I could play devil’s advocate and argue any of the options and I would enjoy doing so.

Another thing that struck me was a line from Grady, a previous winter caretaker who murdered his family several years before:

“Your wife would object to that very strongly, Mr Torrence. And she appears to be… somewhat stronger than we imagined. Somewhat more resourceful. She certainly seems to have gotten the better of you.”
Grady tittered.
“Perhaps, Mr Torrence, we should have been dealing with her all along.”

This actually made me pause and think… “What if they had?” What if, for whatever reason, the Overlook had got into Wendy’s head instead of Jack’s. Manipulated Wendy into throwing away the snowmobile battery and murdering her family? And again, i can imagine multiple possibilities, all of which i could see happening. One, Wendy is less easy to manipulate because she doesn’t have as many underlying issues as Jack, and so she throws off the hotel’s influence more easily. Two, a similar situation as with Jack; she is manipulated into these malicious acts and causes some harm but is ultimately beaten by Jack’s determination to save his son, Hollorann’s rescue, and Danny’s love. Three, Wendy is stronger and more resourceful than Jack, simply poisoning their food or slitting their throats in their sleep. I would actually love to read a re-telling of this book with the Overlook manipulating Wendy instead.

Overall i really loved the pacing of the book. How much it managed to keep me on edge, even when i knew how it was all going to end–i couldn’t remember enough of the details to figure out exactly how they got there. At points the tension was so high i had to take a break, putting the book down while i did something else for 10 minutes. The suspense was also nicely broken up by chapters showing Hollorann’s journey across the country back to them at the Overlook. He was trying to get to them as fast as he could, but the anxiety of his travel did not match that of the events unfolding at the hotel. Slowly though, as Hollorann got closer and closer, his storyline also became more tense, until the last eight chapters of the book had me strung out on a knife edge. I loved it.

Lastly, the only real reason this book didn’t get five stars is because, let’s be honest, King is not the best writer. There are a few issues that I can’t ignore. Mild, but still utterly present… sexism, racism, unnecessary and awkward sexual interactions, and generally clumsy, cliched literary devices. All (mostly) forgiven with an eyeroll and acknowledgement that to me he is a good-but-not-great author.

I do have other thoughts on the book, but they are mostly tied into its relationship and comparison to the 1980 film adaptation. So many other thoughts, in fact, that before I start reading Doctor Sleep, I have decided to re-watch the film and spend some time writing a “book vs film” analysis. Just like reviews of the book and the film, comparisons have likely been done to death… but i just have so many opinions on this, that i need to get them down on page and share them. So, if you have any strong opinions about The Shining, stay tuned for that soon!

Goddess Mode

Title: Goddess Mode

Author: Zoe Quinn, Robbi Rodriguez (Illustrator)

Summary: In a near future where all of humanity’s needs are administered by a godlike A.I., it’s one young woman’s horrible job to do tech support on it. But when Cassandra finds herself violently drawn into a hidden and deadly digital world beneath our own, she discovers a group of super-powered women and horrific monsters locked in a secret war for the cheat codes to reality.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4

Review: I’ve been reading these comics as they’ve come out, which isn’t something I normally do because I have no patience and want to read it all at once. But my partner was the one buying them, and they were there and the story sounded interesting and by the second or third comic i was hooked. So here were are.

It’s a no-brainer, really–this series has everything I love. Science fiction, strong female leads, bright colours with a gritty realism, intrigue, and cliffhangers. The dystopian world the story is set in is one that is easy to imagine in our foreseeable future. Adverts everywhere you look because you have nanotech in your eyeballs, a holographic AI popping up to tell you things, oh, and an entire digital world, pseudo-superheroes, and the monsters they fight. That last bit is less foreseeable.

The story is pretty complex for short six-part comics, but never overwhelmingly so. With four main characters and at least four more supporting, they all have their own backstory and character development which feeds into the story as a whole. I loved the main-main character, Cassandra. Her spunky attitude and great hair made me fond very quickly. She’s smart, but overwhelmed, and with huge emotional investment in everything that goes on. My other favourite characters were Tatyanna for her misanthropic cynicism and well-hidden kindness, and Antimony for rocking that eye patch and being so much more than the mother of monsters she was taken for.

Of course, the artwork is freaking gorgeous. So much bright, rich texture and depth. How vibrant Azoth, the digital world, is compared to the “real” analogue world. The quiet simplicity in some frames and the bold chaotic action in others. It’s definitely a comic I’ve wanted to stop and look at a lot more than others, and completely brings to life this incredible world in a science fiction and fantasy mix.

The ending wonderfully tied up several plot threads and left me feeling satisfied, while also unravelling a few more and leaving me in anticipation of a sequel. And now I wait…


Even That Wildest Hope

Title: Even That Wildest Hope

Author: Seyward Goodhand

Summary: The highly anticipated debut short story collection by Journey Prize finalist Seyward Goodhand bursts with vibrant, otherworldly characters—wax girls and gods among men, artists on opposite sides of a war, aimless plutocrats and anarchist urchins—who are sometimes wondrous, often grotesque, and always driven by passions and yearnings common to us all. Stylistic and primordial, Even That Wildest Hope is a chaotic but always satisfying fabulist journey in the baroque tradition of Angela Carter, Carmen Maria Machado, and Ted Chiang.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher via netgalley. A collection of perculiar short stories, it sounded exactly up my street. And in many ways it was… but it also took me over a month to read.

Goodhand certainly has a wonderful ability to take basic human feelings and struggles and portray them in bizarre and unusual narratives. Emotions made physical, philosophical concepts became human, and moral debates turned into fairy tales.

I loved a lot of the stories in this book. Several were must-keep-reading good. So I Can Win, the Galatrax must Die, about an… unusual… superfood and the lengths people go to to consume it. The Fur Trader’s Daughter, about family, love, and what truly makes us human. The Gamins of Winnipeg, about staying true to yourself verses playing the game of life. The Parachute, about passion and success and jealously. Hansel, Gretel, and Katie, a wonderful twist on the classic that kept me guessing till the very end.

Though I would say none of the stories in this collection were bad, some dragged more than others. Enkidu, about the unequal relationship between a man and a god, and Pastoral, about a woman defined by the men who pursue her and the life experiences she had no choice in, were both very interesting stories, but I took days to read both. They felt stretched out and unnecessarily long–my investment in the stories began to lag because I needed them to move a little faster.

The other stories were fairly short, wonderfully weird, and oddly moving. Felix Baumgartner’s Guardian Angel, about a reluctant guardian angel following its ward into a dangerous situation. What Bothers a Woman of the World, about a woman’s emotional vulnerability taking physical form and the relationship she has with it. Embassy Row, about a group of secluded couples without care or responsibilities trying to find meaning in their lives.

Every story provided a lot of food for thought and although I have my favourites, each and every story has stayed with me in its own way.

Overall this book was fairly mixed bag. Some strong 4- and 5-star stories, but definitely a few 2- and 3-stars as well. Hence the middle-ground rating of 3.5. I think everyone will find a story to love in this book, but not every story will be someone’s cup of tea.

Ismyre

Title: Ismyre

Author: B. Mure

Summary: In the city of Ismyre, Ed the sculptor works as his widower neighbour sings strange melodies late into the night.

Meanwhile, across the city, a government building explodes into a mess of plants and flowers, and B. Mure’s enchanting story of mystery and fantasy begins…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: This was an impulse buy from my local comic book shop. I have my most successful random purchases with graphic novels, and this one is another win. I couldn’t resist that blurb, and the book didn’t let me down.

The story follows Ed. He sits quietly in his flat, sculpting small wooden figures, and saying “Hm” a lot. I liked him immediately. We also meet the prime minister, who’s dealing with missing people and government buildings blowing up in flowers; Faustine, a friendly but evasive magic user with adorable kids; and the widow, a lady who lives near Ed and sings a lot. The story involves Faustine helping Ed hunt for some of his sculptures that are being stolen, as well as creating a large ice sculpture commissioned by the prime minister. But the plot is almost–almost–incidental. The real focus is on the quiet, lonely nature of the world and the easy, light friendship that builds between Ed and Faustine.

And the art. Oh, the art. Blues, reds, greens, and yellows… melding and overlapping or in stark contrast, light and sparse or bold and filling the frame. How four colours in varying shades and strengths can evoke such varied moods and atmospheres is incredibly done. The characters are all humanoid animals–cats, dogs, crocodiles, birds, deers, frogs, mice… And the line work, walking that fine and beautiful line between neat and tidy, and rough and ready. It feels casual, but is so detailed without being overwhelming. It’s just bloody gorgeous, honestly.

There are two other books by Mure set in the city of Ismyre, and i’ve already added them to my to-read list. I can’t wait to spend more time in the quiet, peculiar little town. My two favourite things from the book were two very simple quotes. I’ll leave you with them and their pages from the book.

Hm.

Very interesting, mostly useless.

Hm.mostly useless

House of Many Ways

Title: House of Many Ways

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Summary: Charmain Baker is in over her head. Looking after Great Uncle William’s tiny cottage should have been easy, but he is the Royal Wizard Norland whose house bends space and time. Its single door leads to any number of places: the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains — even the past.

In no time at all Charmain becomes involved with a magical stray dog, a muddled apprentice wizard and a box of the king’s most treasured documents, as well as irritating a clan of small blue creatures.

Caught up in an intense royal search, she meets a sorceress named Sophie. Can the Wizard Howl and Calcifer be far behind?

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This is the third book in the Howl’s Moving Castle trilogy. It took me a while to get around to reading it, because as much as i flipping adored the first book, the second book was quite a disappointment in comparison… I was really worried this one wouldn’t be as good as I hoped either. BUT! I was so happy to fall for this book almost immediately.

Charmain was an instant delight. A main character with a ferocious appetite for reading is always going to win the hearts of book lovers. But she’s also strong-willed, and selfish, and unsympathetic… All the way through I was pretty much thinking, “Same.” So yeah, I loved her. Sent to look after the house of a distant relative by marriage and thrown in at the deep end with magic, she finds very little time to read. The only other characters we really see enough to properly get to know are Peter, an apprentice wizard who shows up on Charmain’s doorstop unexpectedly to join the party; and Waif, a delightful little dog who won’t leave Charmain alone. They were both wonderful.

And so, of course, magic and mayhem ensue. And really, it’s all such a freaking wonderful journey. I think it helps that Howl and Sophie and Calcifer are in this one a smidgen more than they were in Castle in the Air, but there was something about this book that just had the same fun chaotic energy of the first one. I could happily have read more about the everyday lives of Charmain, Waif, Peter, and Uncle William. The lot of them living in that enormous tiny cottage, tapping furniture for food, chatting with kobolds, and exploring the endless magical twists and turns.

I think that’s the difference–Castle in the Air seemed to meander in a dull way when I wanted the plot to speed up, but House of Many Ways could have meandered as long as it wanted, because I just loved spending time in this world. While the plot was almost secondary to the ups and downs of an average day for Charmain, it was also woven seamlessly into the ups and downs of an average day.

Almost every random crazy thing that happened came back around and tied into the plot by the end of the book, and in such an easy but satisfying way. The mysteries and questions raised in the story were answered, but the story also ends on a note of more excitement to come. And while I’d’ve loved to have carried on reading, getting the happy ending and knowing all these lovely characters have such exciting lives ahead of them is the perfect place to end.