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!

The Wheel of Osheim

Title: The Wheel of Osheim

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri Ver Snagason and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued.

For Jalan Kendeth, getting out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. The key can open any lock an possession of it may enable Jal to return to the three Ws that have been the core of his debauched life: wine, women and wagering.

But the Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there’s nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: From my review of the previous book in this series, The Liar’s Key:

“[I’m] very keen to read the last in The Red Queen’s War series. I hope Jal continues to acknowledge his own skills, courage, and caring. I hope he and Snorri get into some wonderfully dangerous adventures. I hope he kills Edris Dean with his own goddamn sword. I hope he just generally saves the fucking day, honestly.”

Let me tell you… I was not disappointed.

Jalan is just… one of my favourite characters ever, actually. His self-deception is like nothing I’ve ever seen. He’s convinced himself he’s a coward who’d give up his nearest and dearest to save his own skin, while continuing to never, ever do that, and he’s just so likeable for it. Seeing him really, truly come into his own and show people what he’s capable of (even if he’s not one of those people) was satisfying to see. And Snorri… the big, beautiful, bozo that is Snorri. Continuing to see and believe only the best in Jal, being so righteous and noble and good, and just having the biggest heart and the loudest roar.

The friendship between Jal and Snorri really shines in this book, after seeing them bond over so many adventures in the previous books. And the fact that they’re not together for a portion of the book only made me appreciate their interactions and how they work together all the more. It also was wonderful having some of Snorri’s story when he was alone, and getting to see what Snorri really thinks of Jal and no i did not tear up with happiness about it, shut up.

Unfortunately Kara and Hennan still feeling too much like tacked on extras and plot devices, rather than fully realised characters. Kara still comes across as very suspicious and not wholly likable, which disappointed me. Hennan is too quiet and not utilised in enough (or in any?) ways until he proves useful towards the climax of the book (see: plot device). It was nice getting to appreciate more characters that had been painted as worthless or horrible by Jal, most notably the genuine connection Jal finally recognises and acknowledges with his father and brothers. The Red Queen continues to be a kick arse and formidable woman, along with her twin siblings. I loved Jal letting his mouth run, standing up to her and instead of giving her the key, giving her what for! The sudden respect that earns him from her, and how that leads and affects the rest of the story is brilliant.

Talking of the story… it is non-stop. What Liar’s Key lacked in a plot to keep the book moving, this book improved on tenfold. There is never a dull moment… almost to the point of wanting a dull moment. Almost. It was unnerving at first, Jal reappearing from Hell without Snorri and no explanation. I was worried about Snorri until his magnificent reappearance that literally had me whooping. There was just no let up… Jal’s meeting with Jorg, his rescue of Lisa, how he conclusively dealt with Maeres Allus, how he earned everyone’s respect by being a freaking incredible general (after convincing himself he’d done a half-arsed job of it up until they were attacked)… just. So much. And that’s only in the first half.

There was a lot packed into this book, and even though I knew there would be confrontations for Jal with Edris Dean and his Unborn sister… when they came they surprised me. With so much going on I stopped thinking about what might happen and just needed to keep reading to actually find out. I was a bit ‘meh’ on the ending of Lawrence’s first series The Broken Empire, but this one was brilliant. It was satisfying with enough possibility to keep me guessing. It had relief without compromising on emotion and genuinely high stakes. It was pretty perfect.

Other than the witty, clever, and endlessly quotable writing, the genre of these book is my absolute favourite thing about them. It’s a perfect science fiction and fantasy meld. I love it. Set a thousand years after a nuclear war that happens in our conceivable future, it hints at a history and technology the characters don’t fully understand. I had so much fun trying to figure out what Jal was describing, because they don’t have a clue. A white cube with “ghosts” inside. The builder’s wheel that’s been turning all this time and bringing magic into the world. And my personal favourite… a freaking iron pineapple!! This is such a good, niche genre, and I want 100 more books written in this vein immediately.

I read this book in a week which, along with Prince of Thorns, is the quickest I’ve read any of the books in either series. I could barely stop reading it, and when I did I was only thinking about reading it. It’s incredible how everything ties up with The Broken Empire series and I really want to re-read both series with the insight I now have. Of course, who has time for that when I need to be getting on with the next series?

The City Of Mirrors

Title: The City of Mirrors

Author: Justin Cronin

Summary: All is quiet in the world. The Twelve have been destroyed, and the hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon civilization has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew–and daring to dream of a hopeful future. But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy–humanity’s only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him. One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I went into this book with trepidation. I completely, utterly, five-out-of-five stars loved the previous two books in this series (The Passage and The Twelve), but i had heard of quite a few people really disliking the third and final book. So i cracked the spine with hope in my heart, but fully prepared for disappointment. Either way, i was half right.

This review is, in a word, long. It is also full of spoilers–i couldn’t express my roller coaster of emotions without talking about every damn turn in ride, i’m afraid. So read on at your own peril.

Things started out strong. Reuniting with these characters i have followed and loved over the first two books, discovering what becomes of them over the few years since the end of The Twelve, and finding the strings of where this book will take them. I loved it so far. I also really enjoyed the section of the book given over to Zero, Timothy Fanning, our antagonist’s tale of his back story. Told in the first person, he goes all the way back to his childhood, starting college, losing touch with his family and making a new one with his friends. I got lost in his story, and grew quickly fond of these new (and old…) characters. It was super interesting to discover how the virus had come about, and what people’s goals and motivations had been, even years before it happened. This was, however, also where the first crack appeared in my hope, allowing my disappointment to slip in. With Fanning’s history comes the slap in the face that everything–the entire apocalyptic mess–happened because of a love story. That just… annoys me, honestly. A man falls in love, it’s complicated, there’s a tragedy or two, and then he kills everyone. The moral of this story to me? Men are crazy dangerous and women should never fall in love with one.

The next section of the book skips ahead about 20-25 years, with our main protagonists now middle aged, and their children all grown up with children of their own. And honestly, this part… just… dragged. There was too much of the daily grind, people going about their every days, and too many characters i haven’t seen grow up and have nothing invested in. Action and excitement and development was severely lacking, and really i think the book as a whole would have benefited if we had jumped into the story at this part, with short forays back to see how they came to this point. Juxtapositioning the time lines as well as character- and plot-development that way would have kept the whole thing more interesting.

When things did kick off, with the virals finally making a reappearance and everything going to pot, my enthusiasm returned full force and i was ready for the rest of the book to be action-packed and making up for any lull in the narrative. And for a while, it did. The attacks on the city, the ambush, and the mad dash to the Bergensfjord. That was an example of this book’s story at its best, and i didn’t want to stop reading.

Despite loving the story at this point, there were other things i wasn’t enjoying so much. Plot is only a part of what makes a good book–the characters play a hefty part as well. Unfortunately, by this time, some were starting to wear on me. I’ve never been Peter’s biggest fan, but he was so blind to so much and making the wrong choices–i was left with very little sympathy or patience for him. The characters i did like were not in it enough–Greer, Michael, Lore, Amy. And even Amy sarted to frustrate me, when more and more of her love story with Peter is revealed. No matter how you spin it, she’s over 100 years old in the body of a young girl when Peter is a young man, and she’s still over 100 when she’s in the body of a young woman and Peter is a middle aged man. Despite the fact i get no ~romance~ vibes from their relationship at all and it feels entirely forced for the sake of having it–their massive, confusing, and altering age gaps just give me the creeps.

The single biggest disappointment i have with the entire book–the thing that not only failed to land for me, but actually make me rather angry and terribly, terribly sad–was Alicia. She is, hands down, my favourite character. But Cronin’s handling of her, her journey, and her conclusion is… misjudged at best, and just plain disgusting at worst. Her situation and condition is unique. The only person with any kind of understanding of it is Amy, and i loved the relationship Alicia and Amy share because of that (and honestly, i’d’ve bought a romance between them much more easily). Along with that, she went through some truly horrific events in The Twelve, coming out the other side a different person (again), but still with her heart and mind in the right place. In this book, she gets nothing but anger and violence from the people she once called friends, and the people she believed she was protecting for the last 25 years. At first i thought this anger was an initial reaction to people missing and worrying about her–that they would expunge it and welcome her back into the fold. Instead, it seethes and these people Alicia loves and is still trying to protect give no shits about her. She’s then severely wounded by friendly fire and reduced to a cripple for the rest of the book, kept around solely for information that barely gets used or considered. She gets no goodbyes, no validation for everything she has done, and only a single person caring enough about her to hold a conversation and help carry her trauma and her secrets. And it hurts me that she’s thrown away like that in this story.

By the end, and mostly by the time i became too disheartened by Alicia’s treatment, i just… didn’t care anymore. By the time they arrived in New York i was skipping ahead and see what happened. And not because i was so excited or engaged with the story that i had to know what happened and that everything turned out okay, but because i wanted to find a reason to want to keep reading–because i just wanted it over with. I was ready to give up on the last 150 pages, but the time and love i’d poured into the previous books gave me the determination to see it through, with the compromise of skim-reading the final chapters. By that time, though, i cared very little about anything i read.

Throughout the book, Cronin’s way with words shines through. His turns of phrase and imagery never failed, and i underlined with reckless abandon. I’m so happy this remained, even through parts of the book i didn’t enjoy, and even at parts of the book that made me numb with sadness and disappointment.

Some might have said she fell. Others, that she flew. Both were true. Alicia Donadio–Alicia of Blades, the New Thing, Captain of the Expeditionary–would die as she had lived.
Always soaring.

Honestly, in my heart this book gets two and a half stars out of five, but i rounded up based on my utter and undying love of the first two books. That love remains undamaged, and once i’ve posted this review i will try to wipe the memory of this book from my mind. For me, the series ends with humanity continuing on its journey to grow and rebuild itself, while Alicia heads off to New York to behead Zero and be the big damn hero she is.

Black Widow

Title: Black Widow

Author: Christopher Brookmyre

Summary: Diana Jager is clever, strong and successful, a skilled surgeon and fierce campaigner via her blog about sexism. Yet it takes only hours for her life to crumble when her personal details are released on the internet as revenge for her writing.

Then she meets Peter. He’s kind, generous, and knows nothing about her past: the second chance she’s been waiting for. Within six months, they are married. Within six more, Peter is dead in a road accident, a nightmare end to their fairytale romance.

But Peter’s sister Lucy doesn’t believe in fairytales, and tasks maverick reporter Jack Parlabane with discovering the dark truth behind the woman the media is calling Black Widow…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: I’ve been having a bit of a reading slump lately, so i decided to dive into a Brookmyre, as they are always a fun, interesting, and relatively light read. I wasn’t wrong; this was just the type of book i needed to get me enjoying the act of reading again. Even in the 7 hours since i’ve finished reading it, i’ve caught myself with a half hour to spare and thought, “Oh, good, i can read a bit of my book,” before remembering there isn’t any left to read!

This is the seventh book in the Jack Parlabane series, and as with the last book, Dead Girl Walking, Brookmyre remains departed from the humour-filled escapades of Parlabane of yore. Instead of wise-cracking and elaborate set ups, he’s glum and lack-lustre. I miss the old Parlabane–i miss Christopher Brookmyre. But there is more to this book than simply one character!

The story itself is a not-unfamiliar one. A career-driven woman meets and swiftly marries a man somewhat beneath her. Her husband’s car is then found off the edge of a cliff, they have no body but work with the assumption that he is dead. The details involve cyber-spying, troubled childhoods, and secrets inside secrets inside password-protected secrets.

Most of the book is heavily focused on our main character–and main suspect–Diana. The second half is more of an even split between her and Parlabane. Diana, as the ‘black widow’ of the title and the main suspect from the get go, i liked and was rooting for almost immediately. This is a crime thriller and i expect twists and turns; if i’m being told to assume a character is guilty too early, i’m going to go right ahead and assume they’re innocent. So while she was portrayed as callous, cold, and calculated, i was busy admiring her strength and self-preservation.

The start reminded me strongly of Gone Girl. The missing and presumed dead partner, the first-person narrative of a harsh and intelligent woman. It might even be another reason i warmed to Diana so quickly–i’m one of the few people who actually enjoyed Amy’s character. Thankfully, as the plot developed the similarities faded and i was invested in this book in its own right, rather than as a comparison.

I enjoyed the book well enough; Brookmyre’s writing is stellar in all the ways it always has been. It’s smart, it’s intriguing. His characters are always so well-rounded and he seems to bring them to life with such an ease that i’m insanely jealous of. There are side plots, mini plots, pre-plots. There is never a dull moment, to say the least. However.

However, there weren’t any shocking revelations. Well, i mean, there were, but they weren’t shocking to me–i’d figured them all out. When i read a book i know has twists and turns i’m looking for them. I’m an active reader–i can’t not be looking for them. The book is saying, “Oh, hey, look at A,” so i’m looking closer and B and C. Small throwaway comments regarding the timeline, someone’s perfume, or someone’s pregnancy and i can see what road the reader is being led down, so i extrapolate and take the road less travelled, instead. The only thing i didn’t have figured out were the fine details and the overall motive, because they didn’t matter so much until the very end.

For anyone who doesn’t consciously evaluate the mystery in crime thrillers, this book will not disappoint. For those of us that do, well… i think the only way we’ll be surprised is if a book left no clues and made very little sense. I enjoy the process of figuring things out as i read, and as much as i’d like to be surprised by a twist, i do feel a smug dose of satisfaction when i see it all coming.

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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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The Darkening Sky

Title: The Darkening Sky

Author: Hugh Greene

Summary: Dr Power is recruited by Superintendent Lynch of the Cheshire Police to help him solve a murder in leafy Alderley Edge. Power and Lynch are challenged by a series of intense events and realise that they are both caught up in a desperate race against time.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I found this book via goodreads and was taken with both the summary and the cover. Since then i’ve entered about five or six goodreads giveaways for it–but it paid off, as i finally won one!

I was taken with the book and the story immediately. I work in the health service, so the hospital scenes and doctor/patient relationships really got me stuck into the story and this world. I took to Dr Power quickly, too. For a psychiatrist–for someone who can read people so well–and for one of the main characters in a crime-solving duo, he’s very laid back and almost timid. He’s not got anything near the ego you might expect, in fact he’s more unsure of himself than anything. And that’s rather endearing. Superintendent Lynch took a little longer for me to warm up to. As a copper and a religious man, the odds were against him, but overall these are only parts of his character, and often an interesting juxtaposition explored well in the book. Neither of these main characters is either what you’d expect or as simple as they may seem to be.

The writing was great. It was concise, without being pretentious or bloated, telling as much as was needed while still being descriptive and emotive. It made the book easy to read, while also being engaging and enjoyable. I also loved the few pieces of artwork in the book. The drawing style was striking and had a lot of character. There were only a few drawings, so the book was not overwhelmed with them, but they added an interesting extra when i came across them. The cover art is also great–it’s what drew me to the book in the first place. I love the style, and it’s the best cover i’ve seen for a self-published book.

Unfortunately, though, the book isn’t perfect. The biggest things i couldn’t forgive were issues i had with the plot. For the fact that Power is brought on a board as a psychiatrist for his insight… he doesn’t actually bring that much to the table. The fact that it was the sight of the killings that was the key was patently obvious to me from the get go. It undoubtedly helped that the reader has insight into the murderer during the events, but after the second killing at a remote place of historical interest, any investigator would look at the locations for some kind of link or pattern, surely? The fact that i had already put it together made Power’s revelation less than climatic. Linked to this, was Lynch’s hard-won support for the idea. I couldn’t understand how he was at first so resistant to the idea, simply because to him it didn’t make sense. He’s been in the job long enough to have made superintendent, i find it hard to believe he’s yet to come across a criminal whose motives didn’t make sense to him, personally. And then, of course, the rest of the police force and the press, who find the whole theory a load of mumbo jumbo, despite the fact it’s the only thing proving any link between the murders. It made me roll my eyes, honestly.

The ending wasn’t what I had suspected, which was good (i like to be surprised), but it did lack a little something. It felt a little too easily concluded after everything that had been put in. (I hate to say it, but i liked my own ending better.) The first chapter was such an excellent set up, it was so intriguing and posed so many questions. But then the end didn’t really tie back to that, or make any further reference to it, which i think was a shame. Even just a last paragraph, alluding to the fact that a Dr Allen or Dr Ashton had been trying to contact Power would have given me a wry grin and rounded the book off perfectly.

Overall, i enjoyed the book a lot. I loved the characters and although it had its faults, the plot was interesting enough. On the whole i think the book suffered with trying to introduce its characters and build on their new relationships, as well as carry the story. I’m hoping that with Power and Lynch’s friendship and respect for each other established, the sequels can fully explore more interesting plots while pulling this new duo along for the ride. I do plan on reading them, so i’ll find out soon!

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The Scorch Trials

mrstTitle: The Scorch Trials

Author: James Dashner

Summary: Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he would get his life back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to…

Burned and baked, the earth is a wasteland, its people driven mad by an infection known as the Flare.

Instead of freedom, Thomas must face another trial. He must cross the Scorch to once again save himself and his friends.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 1/5

Review: I read The Maze Runner about a year ago, and it left with a lot to say. While i loved the story, setting and mystery of the book, the writing was atrocious. The writing in this sequel did not improve, and unfortunately the story, setting and mystery only went down hill. So much so, i couldn’t bring myself to finish the book.

I gave up a little over halfway through, when i realised there was nothing about the plot that was fascinating enough to keep me reading–to keep me reading a book written this badly. I disliked it so much, i don’t even think i can bring myself to write much about it. I’ll take it one aspect at a time:

The plot: This started well, with the safety the kids think they’ve found turning on them. Things changed quickly and so dramatically it was easy to stay interested, to want to keep reading. This lasted through their time in their limited dorm-type space, through the tunnel of molten head-eating machines and up to their exit into “the Scorch”. After that, things started to go downhill. A few days of the boys slogging through the heat, getting nowhere fast, nothing happening… it was dull, to say the least. When they finally made it to the city, to buildings, to other life forms, i thought things might pick up. But after that, it just seemed like action for the sake of action, rather than anything the was driving the plot. IDGAF about underground tunnels and cranks too far gone–i want to know more about WICKED and what the hell they’re doing to these kids. It was at that point i had to give up.

The characters: Minho was still my favourite. I think because he seems the most real. His emotions seem close to the surface, but he’s also pragmatic and wants to get shit done. Despite there being a smaller number of characters, we still don’t get to know many. In fact Thomas, our (still lack-luster) lead, comments a few times that he can’t even name a lot of them. Way to be a dick, Tommy. I guess that way you don’t have to emotionally develop when they die. Talking of Thomas, i hate him. A large part of that is because we’re experiencing this from his POV, and the writing of that POV is absolutely terrible. Some of that is because he lacks any kind of emotional depth. He doesn’t mention Teresa, the girl he shared such a deep and meaningful connection with who went missing, for several chapters, then suddenly claims she’s all he can think about. He’s sobbing and angry when he finds her but has to run and leave her behind, but as soon as a new girl shows up he’s eyeing her up and getting touchy feeling within minutes. There are a dozen male characters, they can’t get hooked up with the new girl? With each other? You can’t have a female character who isn’t a love interest?

Finally, the writing: It is bad. So bad i have to wonder if this was even edited. Did they accidentally print the first draft? Dashner can not write. It’s all tell, no show. Things stated plainly with no feeling or mood. Questions asked blatantly, outright leading the reader rather than enticing them along. Settings described in unnecessary detail, but the emotional states of the characters and evocative atmospheres are consistently absent. His pacing is off, he fails to use language to immerse the reader into the moment, instead dragging them along awkwardly. While i was reading this sequel, my partner attempted to read the first book–operative word: attempted. He didn’t get past the first chapter, and it took him so long because we were sitting together reading out the best examples of the appalling writing. It was fun for 20 minutes or so, but only when you have someone to share the cringe-worthiness with.

I’m throwing in the towel on this series. I officially don’t care how it ends. Call me when someone opens a kickstarter raising funds for a decent author to re-write the entire thing.

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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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High Rise

highriseTitle: High Rise

Author: J G Ballard

Summary: Within the concealing walls of an elegant forty-storey tower block, the affluent tenants are hell-bent on an orgy of destruction. Cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on ‘enemy’ floors and the once-luxurious amenities become an arena for riots and technological mayhem.

In this visionary tale of urban disillusionment society slips into a violent reverse as the isolated inhabitants of the high-rise, driven by primal urges, create a dystopian world ruled by the laws of the jungle.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: I moved this book to the top of my to read pile when i heard about the film, hoping to read the book first and get to see the film at the cinema. There were some delays in getting to the book, but even if the film was still showing, i’m not sure i’d want to bother.

The premise is fascinating. A self-contained society within one multistory block of flats descending into chaos. That’s the kind of story i want to get into the details of, to follow along with as things unravel. Except in this case, that didn’t really happen. The specifics and action surrounding the collapse of the society within the high rise are severely lacking. There are glimpses, but it’s mostly exposition after the fact. The focus is not on the action. Not on what is actually happening or why. The focus is actually one the three main characters. Really, the story is more of a psychological thriller. Instead of detailing the high rise’s decline into dystopia, it follows three men’s descent into varying types of madness.

Spoilers ahead. I can’t talk about how problematic this book is without them, i’m afraid…

There is Royal, the architect of the building, who lives on the top floor and sees himself as above–literally and figuratively–the rest of the residents. This causes him to draw away from his neighbours and isolate himself, instead forming (what he thinks is) a kinship with dogs and birds. There is Wilder, a television producer who lives on the lower floors and is at first keen to make a documentary about the high rise and its self-contained collapse. Over time he becomes obsessed with ascending the building, even abandoning his wife and children to accomplish the feat. There is Laing, a medical professor who lives in the middle of building and mostly just wants to keep to himself. Despite the madness around him, he manages this, pulling his sister in until she’s dependant on him.

The thing is… a story about the fragile egos of three men isn’t fascinating. I didn’t like any of them, honestly. By the end i assumed at least one of them would die, but I wanted all of them to. I just didn’t care about their plights, their mental health, their futures. I just didn’t care.

As male-centric as the bulk of the story is, the end was almost–almost–pretty awesome. While the men have been scrambling about the building, fighting, barricading, protecting… the women have been biding their time, working together and generally getting shit done. BUT, when the focus of the women’s power is centred around caring for children and keeping house i’m left feeling distinctly resentful. Honestly, that’s some pretty dated stereotyping, even for 1975.

Essentially, this was a brilliant idea poorly executed. I had a couple of other Ballard books on my to read list, but i’m seriously going to re-think them. I’m in no rush to read more of his work. I think i will give the film a go, when it comes out on DVD. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s actually better.