IT

Title: IT

Author: Stephen King

Summary: It was the children who see – and feel – what made the small town of Derry so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, IT lurks, taking on the shape of every nightmare, each one’s deepest dread. Sometimes IT reaches up, seizing, tearing, killing…

Time passes and the children grow up, move away and forget. Until they are called back, once more to confront IT as it sirs and coils in the sullen depths of their memories, reaching up again to make their past nightmares a terrible present reality.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: Straight off the bat, i’ll admit: This review is bias. As a 10 year old kid, i graduated from Point Horror books to Stephen King, and my first novel was IT. I don’t remember first picking it up and deciding to read it. I do remember re-reading sections dozens of times. I remember reading the first chapter aloud to friends during a sleepover. I remember this book being an important part of my childhood.

So this was maybe my fourth or fifth time reading the book cover to cover, but the first time in over 15 or 20 years. The memories flooded back to me. I remembered the overall gist of some parts, and others i remembered almost word for word. I took almost three months to read this book, and it’s because i was savouring it. Fair warning: there will likely be (at the very least, out-of-context) spoilers.

For the most part, the book takes place in two timelines: the summer of 1958 and the summer of 1985. It follows the same group of characters, interspersing their lives from when they are 11 with their lives 27 years later, when they’re 38. This group of characters is the Loser’s Club. Shall we start here then? I love all the losers in one way or another, but my favourite is Beverly. As an 11-year-old kid she’s super awesome–tough and brave and taking no shit. She’s a tomboy who plays rough and dirty with the boys and thinks nothing of it. She won’t let other people’s judgements on the fact that she’s a girl stop her from doing anything. As an adult, i liked her less. She somehow let life wear her down, and she wasn’t as hardy as her younger self. King used her as the much more emotive adult character, where as children it seemed they were all allowed to have a spectrum of emotions. Of the others, i especially loved Ben (emotionally intelligent and intuitively ingenuitive) and Mike (unknowingly wise and unshakably steadfast). But all of the characters are brilliant in their own way–they all have depth and flaws and talent.

The Loser’s nemeses are twofold: an ancient demonic evil entity that preys on children by taking the form of their worst nightmare… and the school bully and his minions. It’s a toss up as to which i find more abhorrent, to be honest. But i guess the ancient demonic evil entity just pinches it, because at least we get the bully’s back story. Henry is a tad twisted and a lot fucked up; full of anger and hate and inadequacy he projects it all at those weaker and more easily targeted, in typical bully fashion. This is heightened, however, by the influence and coaxing of IT. IT has many guises–as a werewolf, a leper, a shark, dead children, a giant bird–but it’s more common facade is Pennywise the dancing clowns (though i don’t recall him doing much dancing). Every 24-27 years, IT shapeshifts it’s way through the odd town of Derry, killing children, before hibernating the time away underground until the cycle begins again.

On the surface it’s a book about monsters, childhood fears, and children’s ability to believe (in the monsters, and in the things that will kill the monsters). But the books is much more than that. It’s about friendship, loyalty, and growing up. It’s about the way society often disregards and controls children. It’s about the ways in which people change as they mature… and they ways in which they stay the same. It’s about how people’s fears and desires influence them on conscious and unconscious levels. It’s about a lot of stuff, okay?

I liked the 1958 timeline more than 1985. I found the characters as kids much more interesting and generally more developed and fleshed out from a writing perspective. The adults seemed a little more two dimensional in comparison, and that wasn’t helped by the fact that for most of the book they couldn’t remember much of their childhood. I think that memory loss left them as less themselves (and that’s me being generous, making it part of the plot, rather than a flaw in the writing). It even goes as far as what they each bring to the group; as kids they all had specific traits that aided their fight against IT, but come adulthood and these are all but gone. While Eddie still showed them the way to IT’s lair as adults, they didn’t need him to get them out. Bev was a natural with a slingshot, but as an adult she didn’t even touch one. It seemed that on the whole, as adults, there wasn’t as much to them as when they were kids.

In both timelines, it was the build up, the planning, and the brief encounters with IT that were the most enjoyable. The climax of the book–the children and adults fighting IT on its home ground, juxtapositioned–was less thrilling for me. For all that build up (over 1000 pages of it), not a lot actually happens. No real fighting or much action–all mind games. Which i don’t mind so much, in fact i rather enjoyed those scenes and getting to hear IT’s own point of view first hand… but the fact that a group of people had ventured there together, to then stand and watch one or two of them hypnotically communicate with IT telepathically was a bit of an anticlimax. It begged the question: Why were they all there?

What did get me was the forgetting. I knew it was coming, but it still hit me quite hard. This group of people forged incredible childhood friendships before gradually moving away and forgetting each other. They then get it all back–they remember each other, they remember all they did that summer, and they find they’re still bonded and care for each other deeply. But then it’s all taken away from them again–and this time they know; they can see it happening. That hit me right in the feels, and was the thing i found scariest of all. The connection these people had to each other, and the memories they made together… all taken from them. It’s altering who they are at such a deep level–they’ll never again know who they really are. That bloody hurts.

I believe we were both thinking the same thing: it was over, yes, and in six weeks or six months, we will have forgotten all about each other. It’s over, and all it’s cost us is our friendship…

Ultimately, it is the chapters detailing the summer of 1958 that i enjoyed the most. Meeting these seven children and them meeting each other. Following them juggle normal summer holiday activities, clashes with an ever more psychotic bully, and discovering and fighting an ancient demonic evil entity. Seeing them learn and experience and bond. Those are the chapters i remember most vividly from when i read this book as a child, because those are the chapters i re-read the most. It was nice to savour a full re-read of the entire book again, but it’s still that summer of 1958 that i’ll carry with me now i’ve finished.

I will also be re-watching the 1990 miniseries, which i was (unsurprisingly) also obsessed with as a kid. It’s likely i’ll write another non-review post about this book, and the film, and what they mean to me. I could have expanded on it here, but i wanted to keep this about the book (and otherwise this post would be far too long!). So watch this space, i guess!

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In the Flesh

Title: In the Flesh

Author: Cliver Barker

Summary: Terrifying and forbidding, subversive and insightful, Clive Barker’s groundbreaking stories revolutionized the worlds of horrific and fantastical fiction and established Barker’s dominance over the otherworldly and the all-too-real. Here, as two businessmen encounter beautiful and seductive women and an earnest young woman researches a city slum, Barker maps the boundless vistas of the unfettered imagination–only to uncover a profound sense of terror and overwhelming dread.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I disliked the last Clive Barker book i read enough that i didn’t think i’d ever pick up another. But when i discovered one of the creepiest films from my youth–Candyman–was based on Barker’s short story The Forbidden, i had to get my hands on a copy.

I was shocked and happy as soon as i started reading the first of the four stories, In the Flesh. It was instantly one of those stories where you know something isn’t right, where things aren’t what they seem, where there’s more to be revealed. It’s the kind of story that keeps my interest and keeps me reading. The characters were criminals, imprisoned, but they were sympathetic and likeable; i was scared for them and that had me invested in the story.

The second story was the one i’d been waiting for–The Forbidden. Much of it was familiar to me, having seen the Candyman film enough times. The creepy vibe of the film, and the Candyman himself in particular, came through in satisfying ways. But the story created even more, i think, than the film. The eerie, isolated feeling of the housing estate and the peculiar social structure are such banal things, but increase the macabre feeling in the story intensely. It draws on similar themes as High Rise, but with more of a horror twist and i loved it.

The Madonna is the third story in the book, and overall the weakest in a lot of ways. I hated the two main characters, so welcomed any nightmarish retribution that came their way. This was the one horror that i wanted to know more about, though. How did it/they end up inhabiting the pool? Do all their women come to them in the same way? What exactly happens to the creatures they raise? Where did they all go at the end? And in someways i think this was the story that dealt with more interesting themes and non-horror concepts. It’s the one story, maybe, that would work well as a longer story.

Lastly there was Babel’s Children. This one i liked a lot. It marked itself as different in almost every way from the other stories. It was obviously not a supernatural horror–it was a human one. Unlike The Madonna i feel like i got exactly the right amount of information to tell the story, without it begging more questions or being too full of answers. It was more like a mini adventure with an is-it-or-isn’t-it premise that was pretty delightful, actually. All the characters were likeable and it even made me smile. The end wasn’t sombre, but it did have weight and an unspoken captivity.

With not one story i didn’t enjoy, compared to the 700+ novel that failed to engage me, it’s clear Barker is a far, far more accomplished short story teller. While i’m unlikely to pick up one of his novels, i won’t hesitate to jump into another of his short story collections.

The Road Through the Wall

Title: The Road Through the Wall

Author: Shirley Jackson

Summary: In Pepper Street, an attractive suburban neighbourhood filled with bullies and egotistical bigots, the feelings of the inhabitants are shallow and selfish: what can a neighbour do to triumph over another neighbour, what may be won from a friend? One child stands alone in her goodness: little Caroline Desmond, kind, sweet and gentle, and the pride of her family. But the malice and self-absorption of the people of Pepper Street lead to a terrible event that will destroy the community of which they are so proud.

Exposing the murderous cruelty of children, and the blindness and selfishness of adults, Shirley Jackson reveals the ugly truth behind a ‘perfect’ world.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: The first Jackson novel i have given less than four stars to. I’m not sure if i’m more disappointed in the book or myself.

It’s classic Jackson. She takes the suburban setting of Pepper Street with its various families, and simply following them in their daily routines shows them as slightly off. Exposing their idiosyncrasies and private relationships in subtle, slowly creepy ways. Children had budding malice, marriages had simmering hatred, families had rivalries and favourites, neighbours had polite distaste, and everyone had secrets.

I simply found, for my tastes, it wasn’t quite creepy enough. I think perhaps the book has not aged well; the concept of secrets and not all being as it seems beneath the surface of happy families is so common these days on TV and in film. The secrets and lies that have been explored and exposed in modern media has been so much more extreme, that Jackson’s attempt here just isn’t shocking.

The plot was minimal; it was much more of a character study with mini stories throughout. I liked this concept, but overall it didn’t leave me with the drive to keep reading. Long chapters with no arc or obvious advancement of the story didn’t help. Although i enjoyed reading when i did, i didn’t think about the book much when i wasn’t reading.

Talking of characters, there are a lot. Almost all were families, with all adults being referenced as “Mr X” or “Mrs Y”. I found it hard to keep track of most of them, relying on context to remember each character’s story and personality, rather than simply their names. It made for a hard slog, and often I’d be halfway through a particular section before realising who it was about and the full meaning of what was happening. There were only a handful of characters i remembered strongly enough by name alone, and for only this reason, they became my favourites. Though, with the nature of the book, i didn’t like any of the characters–and that’s a positive point as far as i’m concerned!

Although this is far from my favourite, it is so quintessentially Jackson. A slow-moving, quiet, unassumingly sinister tale. I would have just liked it to be a little more sinister.

Bird Box

birdboxTitle: Bird Box

Author: Josh Malerman

Summary: Most people dismissed the reports on the news. But they became too frequent; they became too real. And soon it was happening to people we knew.

Then the Internet died. The televisions and radios went silent. The phones stopped ringing.

And we couldn’t look outside anymore.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I remember reading the synopsis for this book and being fascinated. What on earth could stop people being able to look outside? What happened if they did? I didn’t even speculate on answers to those questions, and jumped into this book without expectations, ready to find out.

The multiple narratives are great. We follow our main character, Malorie, during three stages of her life. In the present day she leaves the safety of her home with two children, blindfolded, to take a boat 20 miles down river. One flashback narrative is told in reverse, how Malorie trained the children to use their hearing, how she struggled being a new mother alone in a post-apocalyptic world, and how she risked her life gathering tools and provisions shortly after giving birth. A second flashback narrative documents the disaster, how Malorie arrived at the house and lived with her new housemates before giving birth. The two flashback narrative converge, completing the story’s history, just as Malorie is reaching the final stage of her journey down the river.

The thing that is stand out for me, is how freaking creepy this book is. For the most part, the characters are locked up inside the house, which creates a claustrophobic atmosphere with tensions often running high; i was just waiting for something to kick off. The worst(/best) parts, though, were when the characters ventured outside. Blindfolded for protection against what they must not lay eyes on, the loss of such a main sense was palpable in the writing. I felt as anxious and on edge as the characters just reading. Most often i read in bed at night before sleep, and most nights i couldn’t read more than two or three chapters, because it would freak me out too much. (I loved it.)

It wasn’t until today, when i started reading during daylight hours, that i could plough through the book and got the second half finished in a matter of hours. Because that’s the other thing about this book: it kept me reading. I needed to know what happened. It’s the nature of the three time lines–i knew certain things of the future, but not how they came to pass, and i was desperate to find out.

The book isn’t perfect. The characters are somewhat lacking in depth; you have the main few who we’re supposed to like, a couple who are obviously supposed to be questionable, and the rest are pretty much filler without much individual personality. The writing is simple, but far from bad; it makes it an easy read, but (as above) still manages to create quite an atmosphere. None of these were so bad as to be off putting, just ways the book could be improved.

There was one question that i couldn’t help but ponder quite early: Where were all the blind people? In a world where seeing things proved deadly, surely there would be a higher proportion of blind folk still around, perfectly fine? Thankfully, this is addressed… but i wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you!

I loved the ending. I thrive on open endings, and this delivers that in the best ways, while simultaneously wrapping the narrative up nicely. If you’re reading to find out exactly why people can’t look outside, don’t expect a definitive answer. I’m still wavering between all the options, because i don’t want to have to settle on one. Aliens? New species? Parallel universe? Mass hysteria? I want them all!

The Passage

the-passageTitle: The Passage

Author: Justin Cronin

Summary: Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she’s the most important person in the whole world. She is. Anthony Carter doesn’t think he could ever be in a worse place than Death Row. He’s wrong. FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming. It is.

Unaware of each other’s existence but bound together in ways none of them could have imagined, they are about to embark on a journey. An epic journey that will take them through a world transformed by man’s darkest dreams, to the very heart of what it means to be human. And beyond.

Because something is coming. A tidal wave of darkness ready to engulf the world. And Amy is the only person who can stop it.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: It’s sort of a thing, now, that i read an epic apocalyptic distopian over the Christmas and new year period; this one was recommended to me by Claire over at Bitches with Books. The synopsis intrigued me, and though i was wary on the vampire front, i clung to their concept in I Am Legend and bought the damn book. So, going in i had very few expectations of this book. It blew me away.

I was literally sobbing by the end of the first chapter and i though, “Shit, this book is going to ruin me, isn’t it?” It did, and i loved every second of it.

Where to start? The book takes its time settling in. It introduces you to the characters mentioned in the synopsis, as well as a few others, before their paths cross. It doesn’t jump straight to the apocalypse, instead we follow its making as we meet our heroes, villains and those in between. This first part of the story is almost a book in itself. An extended prologue. It sets the groundwork for details and relationships and meaning that last literally all the way to the last page. At this point i was enjoying the book, but i wasn’t loving it.

Once the apocalypse comes, the narrative jumps almost 100 years in time, with a new location, a new cast of characters, and a new focus. I barely paused. I was fascinated by this new world and these new people. It was quite an experience leaving behind all the other characters, but i took the leap wholeheartedly, trusting that that first story i’d read would pay off, that the threads would meet. By halfway through the new story, i’m not sure i’d’ve been bothered if they hadn’t, but i was only more sure that they would.

I’m honestly finding it hard to articulate my feelings about this book, because it’s simply the entire book. I guess, with that, the key thing is the writing. I was immersed in it. It read as effortless, though i’d bet it was far from it. Nothing was spelled out, but everything was so clear. What some writers take paragraphs to explain, Cronin captures in a sentence or two. So many times i had to stop and marvel at the perfect simplicity in the writing. I even made note of a few my favourites:

“A blast of quiet that felt like noise.”

“An absence of torment so abrupt it was like pleasure.”

“…to his right, an abyss of blackness, a plunge into nothing. Even to look at it was to be swept away…”

“Courage is easy, when the alternative is getting killed. It’s hope that’s hard.”

I was just in awe of the writing, half the time. The other half i was swept up in the story. The story that encompassed so much, but seemed never to become muddled or confuse me. It was simple enough to follow, but interesting enough to keep me constantly thinking. I am a reader who is always looking ahead; i think about what facts and clues and hints i’ve been given, and where they might lead, what twists and turns are up ahead. With this book, though, i didn’t–i didn’t want to. I wanted to be caught up in the story, and i was. I didn’t try to guess what was coming, i just kept reading until i got there.

A big part of the story i keep coming back to is the relationships–all the different kinds. Family, friends, romance, loyalties, responsibilities… this books has all sorts of relationships, and none of them hog the spot light. None of them are forced or over done or saccharine or meaningless. In a lot of ways, they are all quiet. They are all part of the story, rather than being a story in themselves. There weren’t two characters who were ~destined~ to be together from the start. The focus was never on anyone’s–or any one–relationship. They all simply develop over time, when you aren’t quite looking, until the differences in how people interact and what they mean to each other just make a new sense.

I feel like this review is all over the place and that i’m not making any sort of sense; i’m rubbish at explaining why i loved something–it’s not always able to be articulated (case in point: i wanted to use the made up word “articulatable”).

This book just hits all my likes: apocalyptic, dystopian, sci-fi/horror mix, strong female characters. It’s excellent writing, well constructed and followed through on every point to the final page. I sobbed at the start and i sobbed at the end. The ups and downs in the books were not a punch in the gut of my emotions–they crept up on me, then engulfed me.

I never imagined a book of this length could be this good. The longer a book is, the more chance there is of there being something i don’t like. I was not prepared for this. I was not prepared to love everything about this book. But here i am, ruined and in love. And with the sequel already ordered.

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Through the Woods

ttwTitle: Through the Woods

Author: Emily Carroll

Summary: It came from the woods. Most strange things do.

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss. Come, take a walk in the woods, and see what awaits YOU there.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I’ve had this book on my shelf for quite a while, but saved it as I thought it would be the perfect halloween-time read. It was.

First, and most obviously, this book is gorgeous. The simple-but-striking cover, with creepy branches, limited colours and embossed feel is what drew me to the book in the first place. The art inside is just as striking. The panels are clean and uncluttered, bold in what they show. The use of negative space was incredible and added so much to the atmosphere of the stories (we’re not afraid of the darkness, we’re afraid of what the darkness is hiding). The artwork seems so effortless; it all flows and works so well. It’s not busy, but holds such detail. It’s just amazingly beautiful, and to say that of a graphic horror novel makes me so happy.

The stories themselves are similar, i think, in their simplicity and depth. Nothing is given away easily. The reader is let in on a glimpse of the tale, and it is in the art–the faces, the colours, the settings, the space–as well as the words, that the stories are told. The stories are generally heavy on the build up, on the back story, on the scene setting. A couple of times i found myself awaiting a twist, a big reveal, a spike in the action… but that wasn’t what these stories were about. There weren’t solid conclusions or explanations to these tales–that’s not the point. These stories are about a creeping horror, that crawls inside and makes itself at home. There was no release offered by an explanation or solid conclusion–that would be too easy.

I loved all the stories, but i think my favourite was My Friend Janna.

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The next time i want to feel a chill down my spine and wonder what’s hiding in the darkness, I will definitely re-read this by candle light while the wind howls outside.

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Fellside

fellsideTitle: Fellside

Author: M.R. Carey

Summary: You will find Fellside somewhere on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. It is not the kind of place you’d want to end up, but it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.

It’s a place where even the walls whisper. And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess. Fellside will be the death of you – if it doesn’t save you.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: After the brilliance that was The Girl with All the Gifts, it was inevitable i would read Carey’s second novel. I was prepared for different; different setting, different genre, different vibe… I was not prepared for not-quite-as-good.

This book is a slow burner, setting up the characters, moving them into positions, and setting out several story lines before things really get going. And while that didn’t make the book that exciting, it was still very readable. It was easy to fall into the world and learn more about the characters.

Talking of characters, Carey does a brilliant job with all of them. They all have their faults, but they all have things to appreciate about them; they’re all realistic. Which i’m sure i’ve said dozens of times in various reviews, is the most important thing for me. Jess, the main character, was probably the character i liked the least. It’s not that i hated her, it’s just that she was the most lacking in character. For the protagonist I found her far too reactive (or simply inactive), rather than proactive. She let things happen around her and only did things in response to others. Dr Salazar, the prison doctor, i adored. He felt the most caring in a lot of ways, despite the fact that he was such a push over. I was waiting and hoping all the way through for him make a stand. Sylvie Stock was a self-centred bitch; i loved to hate her. The prisoners, the guards, the lawyers… all of them had their layers and were interesting to read about. The characters, i think, are what i enjoyed most about this book.

The different story threads were intriguing, and I enjoyed following them all. I’d just be getting into one over a few chapters, then it would change back to another one and i’d forget all about the previous to find out what was happening with this one… it was a good way to keep me reading and keep the book engaging. I loved the way the stories slowly began to overlap and then weave together, and how that affected the characters and their motivations. It was some pretty well executed storytelling.

But still, this book was not above three stars for me. I have quite a lot i wasn’t too impressed with, but to talk [read: rant] about them at any length or in any detail would involve pretty big spoilers. Suffice to say… there were no surprises for me in the book. From the very beginning I could guess how and where things were leading, if not the specific details. The trial, the little boy, the roles characters would play in the narrative… i called it all accurately and early enough that none of it was a revelation to me. Generally, i found the book a little too formulaic. The plot–its twists and turns–were very standard, if you know what to look for.

Mostly, though, i wasn’t a huge fan of the supernatural aspect of the story. That’s not a fault of the book, just a way in which we didn’t get on. I love books that could be real, that have their plots rooted in reality in some way. I loved The Girl with All the Gifts because it was science fiction; it gave its horror a biological basis. I find pseudoscience more palatable than the outright supernatural. And i would likely have enjoyed this book more if it had leaned more towards an ambiguous interpretation of certain aspects; the classic ‘is it real or was it all psychological’ get out clause.

I will likely read more of Carey’s work, but will hope for more in the vein of Gifts than Fellside. And with The Boy on the Bridge, a book set in the Gifts world, due out next year, i am cheerfully optimistic!

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No Monsters Allowed

nomonstersTitle: No Monsters Allowed

Author: Various

Summary: Horror has a human face…

In a world over-run with vampires, werewolves and zombies, No Monsters Allowed goes back to the very roots of horror – humanity itself. The vile acts of our fellow men and women, the fears that hide in our own minds, the nightmares that inhabit our everyday lives . . .

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: This book caught my eye from the shelf in the library. I love horror and i love short stories, but what really got me interested was the human-horror element. So often the horror in fiction is represented as “other” be it in the form of monsters or disease or some such. But horror that draws on the cruelty and evil inherent in the human race is a horror you can’t tell yourself doesn’t exist when you’re trying to sleep at night. It’s scarier because it could be real–because it is real.

Overall the stories here were hit and miss. It’s not that any were outright bad, but that some didn’t hit as hard or leave an impression on me. And overwhelmingly the stories read as quite amateurish, which isn’t a criticism, per se, but the inexperienced writing didn’t help in the stories that were also weaker, and unfortunately did effect how seriously (or not seriously) i took the stories.

One story i really enjoyed was the second one, The Silence After Winter, which was about a woman and a young girl getting by following an apocalyptic event. Really, though, this story didn’t read as horror to me. I loved it because of its post-apocalyptic setting, and it certainly explored human nature and its drive to survive in various ways. But horror? Not so much.

Another great story was Puppyberries, about a new food stuff that takes a small town by storm for a short while. They don’t know what it is or really where it came from, but they can’t stop eating it. The thing is with this story, i was waiting for the human-horror twist for the entire narrative… and it didn’t come. I’m still baffled as to what the human-horror aspect was intended to be, as ending on the insinuation that the puppyberries had living things inside them that burrow out brings this story back around to a monster.

Bred in the Bone, Killer Con, and Precious Damaged Cargo are three excellent stories that hit human-horror spot on. For the first, i could feel the anticipation and the hidden horror throughout, and was perfectly satisfied when it was revealed. The second i loved as a commentary on society’s fixation with murderers and serial killers, with newspaper articles and books written about all the gory details–this story took that to a place and exposed the horror of not only the killers, but the public obsessed with them. The third one surprised me–i did not see that end coming, and i loved it!

My favourite story, and i think the one that struck me the most, and will likely stay with me a while, is Some Girls Wander By Mistake. I loved it because it explores sexuality and transgender topics, but within a horror setting. And the fact that it’s human-horror suits it perfectly. I also loved it because i knew where it was going, what the twist would be, but i don’t know how i knew. I just kept thinking, “This seems that,” and “It would be so good if this happened” and then it did. I just. Loved it.

Despite the stories being hit and miss, i did enjoy this book a lot. Mostly because the stories i enjoyed, i really enjoyed. I might actually have to re-read (and even photocopy?) Some Girls Wander By Mistake before i return it to the library. Damn, i really loved that story.

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Swan Song

ssTitle: Swan Song

Author: Robert McCammon

Summary: Facing down an unprecedented malevolent enemy, the government responds with a nuclear attack. America as it was is gone forever, and now every citizen—from the President of the United States to the homeless on the streets of New York City—will fight for survival.

In a wasteland born of rage and fear, populated by monstrous creatures and marauding armies, earth’s last survivors have been drawn into the final battle between good and evil, that will decide the fate of humanity: Sister, who discovers a strange and transformative glass artifact in the destroyed Manhattan streets… Joshua Hutchins, the pro wrestler who takes refuge from the nuclear fallout at a Nebraska gas station… And Swan, a young girl possessing special powers, who travels alongside Josh to a Missouri town where healing and recovery can begin with Swan’s gifts. But the ancient force behind earth’s devastation is scouring the walking wounded for recruits for its relentless army, beginning with Swan herself…

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: So, i’ve decided it’s a thing. A read an epic apocalyptic dystopian over Christmas and new year thing. It really cheers me up over the festive period. In 2014/15 i read The Stand, in readiness to read Swan Song in 2015/16. I felt i had to read The Stand first, because chronology and all that. And in the end, it’s turned out i did prefer The Stand, but now we’ll never know if that’s because i read it first (but really, it’s not).

I loved the start of this book. It got straight into the action of launching nuclear weapons and we’re introduced to the characters as the bombs fall. I loved the lack of messing about and getting straight into the story. I loved the gruesome, realistic descriptions of the characters’ post-nuclear blast wounds. I loved how nothing was easy, everything was a struggle and how much the tension was set high from the very beginning.

For most of the book, i enjoyed all the main characters. I didn’t necessarily like them (i’m looking at you, Ronald), but i enjoyed their storyline and their representation–they interested me. I don’t think there was anyone i was overly fond of; there was no one i favoured more than the others, and for that, the deaths that occurred throughout the book were sad, but not genuinely upsetting, which felt like a shame. As much as i liked the characters, i felt far enough removed to see the deaths as a device to the story and other characters’ motivations.

My problem with the characters began when the two main groups of ‘good guys’ finally met up. I had been waiting and getting excited for it, but it was quite a let down, and actually left me disliking characters i had previously been fond of. You choose to traipse all over the country for seven years looking for someone you see in a magic glass crown, that’s your choice. Don’t get all righteous and demanding when that person’s trusted friends are protecting them from you because you are pushy, potentially dangerous, strangers. I’m going to side with the sane, rational people looking out for each other, not the bossy self-important ones who think they deserve something. I never fully recovered my fondness, unfortunately.

The, perhaps very strange, thing i liked most about this book, was its ability to make me wince. I’m a fan of horror, i’m used to gross and disturbing things, and it usually takes a lot to get to me. But there was something about the simple, almost blasé way this book described disfigurements, violence and injuries that had me screwing my face up and hissing through my teeth. And i loved that. I loved being physically affected in that way, because i so rarely am.

Something that bothered me from the very first chapter, continually, right up through to the last chapter, was the choppy–dare i say sloppy–point of view. It switched from person-to-person without warning and in no discernible pattern. No chapter or even paragraph breaks to distinguish and prepare the reader for the change, just -bam- you’re in someone else’s head. It wasn’t hugely difficult to follow, it just interrupted the flow of the reading, particularly when it would flit to one person only for a line or two, then switch back, or switch between a multitude of people in a short space of time. I understand it was to get across more and relevant information to the reader, but honestly it was a sloppy way to do it.

About halfway through the book, time skips ahead. By seven years. I know it’s seven years, because the narrative makes sure to mention that fact several times, very clearly and extremely pointedly. And at this point, i suddenly felt very far away from the characters i’d got to know over the several months the first half of the book spanned. Could not, instead, those first several months have spanned several years? To take the reader, gradually, on the journey with these character over the years and showcase the key points of their growth and spread the plot points out over the years… rather than skipping ahead as if nothing of note had happened in seven years. It rubbed me entirely the wrong way and felt entirely like a quick and easy cheat on the author’s part. “Let me introduce you to all these interesting characters! Aaaaand… skip to the end.”

The major turning point for me and this book was towards the end. When the two teenagers are pushed together in an awfully sexist fairytale way. A kiss to wake sleeping beauty… i strained my eyeballs, i rolled them so hard. I very nearly gave up right there and then, on page 627, with only 229 pages to go. But i persevered, and was rewarded only with more talk of how beautiful Swan was, with how much Robin loved her, even though they’d barely spoken 20 words to each other. Forget all the violence and gore–this made me sick.

Overall, the ending felt rushed and unsatisfying; the threads of stories weren’t so much woven as tangled haphazardly into a knot. It was a case of moving things along too quickly to pack everything in, and in an 856 page book, that’s quite something. Suddenly war and defence! Suddenly prisoners of war! Suddenly weeks later on the road! Suddenly ‘God’ and the end of the world! And still other things weren’t explored or utilised enough. For seven years a magical glass crown is converted, protected and hunted. Its vital role in the story is stressed and pages dedicated to an exaggerated ‘crowning’ scene… only for it to have no relevance to the dramatic conclusion of the book. It becomes a trinket. And i’m left with the overwhelming feeling of, ‘What was the point?’

What was the point? That was the ultimate feeling i was left with when i closed the book. For all it galloped to the big climax, the very end–the ‘they all lived happily ever after’–dragged. At that point, i didn’t care that much. I was just wanting it to be over.