Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Misery” by Stephen King

I love Stephen King, and Misery was the next on my list. It was very similar to Gerald’s Game, which I loved.

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“Paul Sheldon is a bestselling novelist who has finally met his number one fan. Her name is Annie Wilkes, and she is more than a rabid reader—she is Paul’s nurse, tending his shattered body after an automobile accident.

But she is also furious that the author has killed off her favorite character in his latest book. Annie becomes his captor, keeping him prisoner in her isolated house.”

Boy, was I in for a ride. We’re catapulted straight into the confusion and deliriousness that was Paul Sheldon’s accident, the mad pain of his shattered legs, and the feeling of utter entrapment as the crazy Annie Wilkes gushes over Paul’s writing, rages over his murder of her favourite fictional character, and punishes his ‘bad’ behaviour. This isn’t a slowly-but-surely, maybe she’ll let me go soon before realising something is wrong; no, this is a full-on, immediate, she’s crazy and I’m never getting out of here scenario.

I adored this book, which had me by the throat for the few days it took me to finish. Stephen King’s poetic delivery of mad ramblings, clever metaphors, and references to memories and private jokes are just a step above other writers. I usually detest things that are too popular (I didn’t watch Game of Thrones until 2019) but I’m definitely a King fan (maybe not his number one fan, though…)

Some hilarious quotes that had me chuckling:

“Her temper had apparently gone on vacation. But… it could arrive back unexpectedly at any moment, bags in hand: Couldn’t stand to stay away! How ya doin’?

“No phone call to the ambulance service: ‘This is Annie… I’ve got a fellow here, looks a bit like King Kong used him for a trampoline.’”

“And what then? A kamikaze dive out onto the back porch? A great idea. Maybe he could break his back, and that would take his mind off his legs for a while.”

Annie was a truly terrifying character. She wasn’t just insane, but unpredictable, remorseless, yet still human; an excellent recipe for a King villain. I can’t say much more without having to add a spoiler warning, but her acts and Paul’s reactions and trauma were flawlessly written. I think this might be my favourite King story so far.

Five stars for Misery!

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Book Review: “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is a Japanese author who, so I’ve heard, is one of the most famous and well-loved writers in the country. At writers’ club, my friend Jennifer handed me a copy of Murakami’s first novel, Norwegian Wood (“Norway no Mori” in Japanese), and said, “give it a try” with a smile.

81lnnTBF8dL“Toru, a serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. As Naoko retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman. 

A magnificent coming-of-age story steeped in nostalgia, Norwegian Wood blends the music, the mood, and the ethos that were the sixties with a young man’s hopeless and heroic first love.”

The story follows Toru Watanabe, a young college student who reconnects with an old friend from school, Naoko, with whom he shares a sad past: his best friend and Naoko’s boyfriend, Kizuki, committed suicide at seventeen. They’re both desperately trying to move on, moving from Kobe to Tokyo to move somewhere they know nobody.

I loved the writing style in this book. It read very much like an autobiography, sometimes with Stephen King-like digression, with minute details that were somehow pointless yet fascinating at the same time. What did it matter what he was wearing that day or the fact that the drink he chose from the vending machine was a Pepsi? Yet it gave the story much more depth, like Toru was really talking to me about the sad events of his college days.

Toru himself was nothing really special. He was quiet, often not articulating how he felt, was average-looking, had a simple schedule. And yet I felt inexplicably drawn to this unremarkable man and his unremarkable life.

Though at times I found the plot slow and sex was mentioned far, far too much in painfully unnecessary detail, the story touched me very deeply. A black cloud seemed to hang over the whole thing – Toru’s dorm, the apartments and bars he visited, the characters we met. Almost everyone was messed up mentally some way or another, no one more so than Naoko, who sometimes got so bad she heard voices and couldn’t put pen to paper to write to Toru.

I’m glad I’ve lived in Japan long enough to understand many of the subtle cultural differences. The way people speak to each other, their behaviors, and even a mistake someone made (buying cucumbers instead of kiwi fruit; in English, it doesn’t make much sense, but in Japanese, cucumber (kyuri) and kiwi fruit (kiwi) sound very similar, thus potentially explaining the mistake). That gave it a more realistic edge that I’m glad I could experience.

I finished the book feeling depressed and a little frustrated. I personally disliked the final scene, seeing it as a bit strange that after everything, two characters found that cause of action to be best. Many other readers, such as on Goodreads, also mentioned that they disliked it. Usually, I’d give a book three stars for the reasons listed above, but I know in my heart I’m not going to be able to forget this book easily. Not the descriptions, not Toru’s melancholy nor the poignant memories, nor the quiet romance of Naoko.

I give Norwegian Wood four stars out of five, but now I feel I have to watch a comedy to feel better after such a heavy tale.

4stars

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Book Review: “An Ember in the Ashes” by Sabaa Tahir

I went on a book buying spree quite recently, and An Ember in the Ashes was a highly-rated (“On twelve best book of the year lists”) release from 2015. I picked it up after finishing We Rule the Night. Though I didn’t think that much of the new cover, it was said to be a gritty fantasy and I looked forward to diving in.

*There are some minor spoilers in this review.

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“Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
 
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
 
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
 
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.”

Laia lives with her grandparents and brother. As Scholar people, they lead cautious lives under the iron fist of the Martial Empire. During a raid, where soldiers ransack homes and make arrests, Laia’s grandparents are killed and her brother arrested for treason by a Mask, deadly warriors who are trained from childhood to be ruthless killers.

After tracking down the rebel movement, the Resistance, for help, Laia is sent off on a dangerous mission to spy on the Commandant of Blackcliffe, a large Martial city and home of the school that trains Masks. Meanwhile, Elias, the Commandant’s son and in his final year of Mask school, is desperate to escape the life of murder and cruelty that is set out before him.

There was some great writing in this novel, keeping the pages turning. Laia’s weeks as a slave were believable and sympathetic; she desperately wants to save her brother and is willing to put up with pain, torture, and death to carry out her mission for the Resistance. Elias was likable; he was tired of killing, confused about his feelings for his best friend, and longing for a peaceful life away from the brutish path of a Mask.

That being said, this book was riddled with fantasy cliches and tropes. The two main female characters are show-stoppingly beautiful (of course). There isn’t a love triangle, but others have described it as a square: both of our main characters have two people interested in them. A double triangle?

We have an evil empire, an equally evil emperor who for some reason is really far away, Hunger Games-esque “Trials,” and a battle-hardened female character who is “not like other girls,” is tough as nails and can beat anyone she likes into a pulp, and is also drop-dead gorgeous. There’s also a prophecy, of course, that intertwines the fates of both our MCs. However, this wasn’t a horrible book. Though the tropes where there, they didn’t really want to make me stop reading.

I found some of the magic creatures to be a bit underwhelming. There was a group of sand creatures that attacked Helene and Elias (I can’t remember the names of them) and I couldn’t stop giggling when the king of these creatures said his name was Rowan. Then he sort of disappeared and we never saw him again. He might come up again in the next book, I suppose.

All in all, I did enjoy An Ember in the Ashes but I do not think it deserved all the hype it got. Though it was well written, the characters didn’t really interest me enough to buy the next novel in the series, so I probably won’t be reading it. I give this book three stars out of five.

3stars

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Origin” by Dan Brown

My mother let me borrow her paperback of Origin recently. Dan Brown is a well-known American author known for his thriller novels, including Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code. I hadn’t actually read Dan Brown before, so I dived into this fascinating story.

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“Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to attend the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever”. The evening’s host is his friend and former student, Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old tech magnate whose dazzling inventions and audacious predictions have made him a controversial figure around the world. This evening is to be no exception: he claims he will reveal an astonishing scientific breakthrough to challenge the fundamentals of human existence.

But Langdon and several hundred other guests are left reeling when the meticulously orchestrated evening is blown apart before Kirsch’s precious discovery can be revealed. With his life under threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape, along with the museum’s director, Ambra Vidal. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

In order to evade a tormented enemy who is one step ahead of them at every turn, Langdon and Vidal must navigate labyrinthine passageways of hidden history and ancient religion. On a trail marked only by enigmatic symbols and elusive modern art, Langdon and Vidal uncover the clues that will bring them face-to-face with a world-shaking truth that has remained buried – until now.”

Dan Brown’s prose is wonderful, which comes from a lot of experience in writing. I haven’t read many books recently that weren’t debuts, and it makes a difference to see a master at work. Every sentence sang.

Origin isn’t of a genre I usually go for, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I was eager to learn this secret Edmond Kirsch was planning to unveil, joining Robert Langdon in his exploration of the museum, his meeting with Winston, and the building anticipation to Kirsch’s big reveal.

Origin has been praised for the extensive research Brown undertook, and the organizations and buildings described in the story are all real places; he describes them with detail; no doubt he visited most (perhaps all) of them for the story and it gave the book a very realistic edge.

The story was full of action and many twists, some of which I didn’t guess, and some of which I saw coming. I liked Ambra Vidal very much; she was intelligent and strong, yet vulnerable. Arguably, she was a typical action heroine, but I enjoyed how she interacted with Robert and how she felt about him.

There’s no doubt that this is a wonderfully crafted novel. Personally, though I found the descriptions of the real cathedrals, museums, and other buildings impressive, it was sometimes a little overkill and interrupted the story. I also saw one of the major plot twists coming from near the beginning of the book. That being said, I liked Origin very much, so I’m giving it four stars out of five.

4stars

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Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Girls With Sharp Sticks” by Suzanne Young

This book caught my eye after coming across a blog post that was raving about it. Since I’ve mainly been reading fantasy and horror for the past few years, this looked like a fascinating change. Set in the near future and full of mystery and intrigue, I devoured the hardback in three days.

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Some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardian, they receive a well-rounded education that promises to make them better. Obedient girls, free from arrogance or defiance. Free from troublesome opinions or individual interests.

But the girls’ carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears. As Mena and her friends uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations Academy will learn to fight back.

Bringing the trademark plot twists and high-octane drama that made The Program a bestselling and award-winning series, Suzanne Young launches a new series that confronts some of today’s most pressing ethical questions.”

Philomena, called Mena by her friends, is a student at Innovations Academy, along with many other beautiful young girls like herself. However, instead of learning about science, maths, or world history, they are taught instead how to be “perfect” – manners, sophistication, politeness, self-control, and physical beauty. It was like 17th-century values were being ingrained into a modern school. It was really… weird.

Everything about this “private school” had me on edge. The teachers were sort of nice, but also incredibly controlling. The students took “vitamins” at night. Any whisper of doubt or rebelliousness was instantly “remedied.”

I liked Mena very much. She is down-to-earth, clever, and loves her classmates like they’re her sisters. She isn’t bitchy or over-the-top sassy like we see in some female characters.

Each page I turned only brought more questions. What is this “therapy” they go under when they’re disobedient? Why would their parents send them to such a strange academy? What is their intended purpose once they graduate? Why do Mena’s parents neglect to visit her? Who are they, really?

I didn’t guess the final twist, which was great and made everything fit into place. Though plenty is left to the imagination, I was deeply satisfied with the explanations shown to us in the exciting last third of the book. That’s not to say the first part was boring; I was hooked from the first chapter, and instantly loved it.

Girls With Sharp Sticks is a must-read for those who love suspense. There are feminist themes for those who are into that. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the present tense narrative, which I’m not a fan of, but I quickly got used to it (as with the Divergent trilogy) and it didn’t take away from the story.

I give Girls With Sharp Sticks five stars out of five!

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Spoiler-Free Book Review: “The Queen’s Resistance” by Rebecca Ross

The Queen’s Rising, American writer Rebecca Ross’s debut novel, was one of my favourite fantasy reads of all time. I was enchanted by the world, Ross’s gorgeous atmospheric writing style, and the story of Brienna, a heroine who wasn’t over-the-top feisty and quirky, but believable and likable.

Ross didn’t originally plan to write a sequel, as she described in her Instagram post:

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Today, my second book comes out, and I honestly can’t even believe it! 😭✨ THE QUEEN’S RESISTANCE almost didn’t happen, and what I mean by that is it was originally supposed to be a companion novel to TQR, not a sequel. A companion novel which would focus on a new heroine in the world, because I believed I had finished Brienna’s story. * * In 2016, I wrote a companion novel. Hated it. Scrapped it. Wrote another companion novel. Still wasn’t satisfied with it. I was beginning to panic, because it was about time for me to deliver something to my editor, and I had no idea what my second book needed to be. The companion books were lacking something, and I didn’t know what that *something* was. All the same, I wasn’t going to publish a book I was not 100% in love with. * * In February of 2017, I was sitting on my back deck, throwing the frisbee to my dog. I had a journal open on my lap, and I was trying to brainstorm. And out of the blue, Brienna returned to me and quietly said, “Continue my story. And Cartier? He has a lot left to tell, too.” * * I did exactly as she said: I started to write this book by hand, reuniting with Brienna. And I knew she was right: her story was not finished, & this book was as much Cartier’s as it was hers. * * The words began to flow. This story caught fire—I had been seeking that spark, which my companion novels lacked. And this book poured out of me in 24 days. * * It was a magical, emotional, cathartic experience. And I knew that my second book was meant to be this—a continuation. A book where I could dig deeper and build upon the first. * * THE QUEEN’S RESISTANCE marks the end of the series. It is bittersweet, but I think you will understand why this is the end when you reach the final page. Which I bawled like a baby when I wrote it. * * Thank you all for your love & excitement & support! Thank you for purchasing, requesting, recommending & reviewing my books. I cannot tell you how grateful I am, and how much it means to me. * * I hope you enjoy this little story of mine. It is a book I poured my heart into. And I know my name is on the cover, but this book doesn’t just belong to me anymore. It belongs to you. 🧡✨

A post shared by Rebecca Ross 🌙 (@beccajross) on

TL;DR: she eventually decided to write a sequel that she liked. It carries on immediately from The Queen’s Rising, so of course, be sure to have read that one first.

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“Brienna is a mistress of knowledge and is beginning to settle into her role as the daughter of the once disgraced lord, Davin MacQuinn. Though she’d just survived a revolution that will return a queen to the throne, she faces yet another challenge: acceptance by the MacQuinns.

But as Queen Isolde Kavanagh’s closest confidant, she’ll have to balance serving her father’s House as well as her country.

Then there’s Aodhan Morgan, formerly known as Cartier Évariste, who is adjusting to the stark contrast between his pre-rebellion life in Valenia and his current one as lord of a fallen House. As he attempts to restore the Morgane name, he let his mind wander—what if he doesn’t have to raise his House alone? What if Brienna could stand by his side?

But Brienna and Cartier must put their feelings aside, as there are more vital tasks at hand—the Lannons’ trial, forging alliances, and ensuring that no one halts the queen’s coronation. Resistance is rumbling among the old regime’s supporters, who are desperate to find a weakness in the rebels’ forces.

And what makes one more vulnerable than love?”

Much like the first novel, it took a while for the action to begin. I really enjoyed this in TQR as I loved exploring Magnolia House, Brienna’s life studying the passion of knowledge, and the culture of the world around her. In Resistance, it took a while for me to get into the story. Brienna and Cartier are in Maevana preparing for Queen Isolde’s coronation, and various problems crop up, building in seriousness until things get dangerous about two thirds in.

That being said, the story is filled with many enjoyable twists and turns, many of which I did not see coming. As many readers do, I made guesses as to what was coming, and though I was right about a certain character, there were many other things that surprised me. Predictability can kill a story, and Ross did an excellent job of keeping me on my toes.

Much like Allegiant by Veronica Roth, the chapters switch between Brienna and Cartier’s perspectives. Unlike in Allegiant, however, Ross did a great job of distinguishing their voices so it was easy to follow whose eyes I was seeing the world through. It was a joy to get inside Cartier’s head, to understand how he felt and thought and what many emotions he held back. I thought I could guess the reason for this style of writing, but I was happily proven wrong.

The Queen’s Resistance was much, much darker than the first book. We see much more of the effects of King Lannon’s tyrannical rule and much of the action was much darker than the first. In a way, this symbolises how much Brienna grows throughout the stories; when we first meet her, she’s a pretty innocent seventeen-year-old with not much to worry about except getting her passion cloak; in Maevana, she witnesses brutality, torture, and cruelty. No more details here without reading it yourself!

Ross kept her poetic writing style that caused me to fall so hard for her first novel. Though I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first, this is still an excellent book. I love Brienna; she’s strong without falling into the stereotype of the “witty tomboy” we often see in modern books. I also enjoyed seeing the tougher side of Cartier’s character. I give The Queen’s Resistance four stars out of five.

4stars

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Spoiler-Free Book Review: “My Mum Tracy Beaker” by Jacqueline Wilson

Jacqueline Wilson was one of my favourite authors when I was a child. Most British kids who like reading have at least heard of her. I’ve written about her top ten books, though she’s now written over one hundred. Her stories are mostly about little girls in the working class dealing with real-life issues such as bullying, poverty, abuse, and family issues.

When I was small, my aunt bought me a set of some of Wilson’s best titles, such as The Story of Tracy Beaker, The Bed and Breakfast Star, Bad Girls, Buried Alive!, The Suitcase Kid, and Double Act. I read those books dozens of times all the way through my childhood and teens, and even got a couple of them as ebooks for a reread.

I bought Wave Me Goodbye last year and it was cool to see that Wilson’s writing style hasn’t changed much. I came across My Mum Tracy Beaker and immediately bought it; I liked the first three Beaker books and it was cool to see that the little girl I grew up reading about was now grown up with a child of her own.

91KcVczAr6L“Tracy has returned, hand in hand with her daughter Jess, she’s ready to make her childhood dreams come true. 

Jess and Tracy Beaker are the perfect team. They do everything together. Jess thinks Tracy is the best mum ever, even when she shouts at her teachers!

Tracy has made the perfect home for Jess, leaving The Dumping Ground far behind her. Yes, their flat’s a bit mouldy. It’s only just big enough for two. And the Duke Estate is a bit scary. 
But it’s their happy home. 

Until Sean Godfrey, Tracy’s rich boyfriend, whisks them away to his mansion, life of fast cars and celebrity stardom. Will Jess’s brilliant mum turn into a new person altogether? And will Tracy realise that her childhood dream might not be what she needs after all?”

Despite having modern references such as selfies, Instagram, the internet, and cell phones, it was diving into this 400-page paperback still held the nostalgia of the ’90s with references to things like The Magic Faraway Tree (an old book by Enid Blyton, another childhood favourite) and The Wizard of Oz.

Tracy Beaker is still fierce and short-tempered, but she’s also a wonderfully sweet mother to Jess (from whose view we see this story). She always takes her daughter’s feelings into account, takes her seriously, and does her best to take care of her. Though Tracy has many problems from her difficult childhood, she’s extremely loyal and independent. She makes a big fuss of people’s birthdays, no doubt because she always had “half a birthday” in the Dumping Ground, the home she grew up in.

Jess is much shyer and is reminiscent of some of Wilson’s other books: she likes reading, she’s shy, gets bullied, and doesn’t have many friends. A sympathetic character like this is a Wilson trope.

We see characters from the first three books. Cam is there, of course, still with a wonderful relationship with Tracy, whom she refers to as her mother and says she loves her, showing how grateful she is the woman fostered her. There are other familiar faces, too, but no spoilers here!

A neat little easter egg is when Jess read two books; though they aren’t named, they’re described enough where I could understand they were Hetty Feather and Lola Rose, the latter of which is my favourite book by this author.

The story was pretty good, though it could have been shorter. Tracy can’t let go of her childhood dream; those who read The Story of Tracy Beaker might know she always dreamed of being rich and living in an enormous mansion with posh furniture. Jess, however, is happy with their little flat and it being just the two of them. I enjoyed this book, but I don’t think it’s Wilson’s best. Then again, it’s aimed at children so maybe I’ve just grown too big for it!

If you read this book, I’d recommend reading the first three books so you can spot the references. I give My Mum Tracy Beaker three stars out of five.

3stars

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Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Apt Pupil” by Stephen King

So continues my venture through Different Seasons, Stephen King’s four-part collection of novellas. After Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is Apt Pupil, the story of a young boy and an old man who share and suffer mutual blackmail. A movie adaptation came out in 1998, sixteen years after the book’s release.

kapook_world-176686“If you don’t believe in the existence of evil, you have a lot to learn.

Todd Bowden is an apt pupil. Good grades, good family, a paper route. But he is about to meet a different kind of teacher, Mr. Dussander, and to learn all about Dussander’s dark and deadly past… a decades-old manhunt Dussander has escaped to this day. Yet Todd doesn’t want to turn his teacher in. Todd wants to know more. Much more. He is about to face his fears and learn the real meaning of power—and the seductive lure of evil.”

Todd is described in the very first line as an “all-American kid.” On the surface, he’s perfect. Sun-kissed blond hair, a great smile, and even better grades. Too clever for his own good.

He’s sussed out his neighbour’s true identity. The old German isn’t an innocent immigrant, but an ex-Nazi with a truly horrific past. Todd’s got the goods on him. But he doesn’t want money… he wants to be told. Told everything. Every grisly detail of the Nazis’ horrific acts on their victims.

If only Todd knew at thirteen where his actions would lead, he’d have left the old man alone.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novella. Stephen King doesn’t digress as much as he did in Shawshank, which I preferred; we lived through Todd and Dussender’s mutual disdain, their hold on each other, the odd relationship not of friendship, but respect forming between them. Todd’s grades suffer; he has nightmares, his sick fascination with the unthinkable twisting his life in ways he could never have anticipated.

Horror isn’t always monsters and zombies; there are many horrors of real life that we have to live with, some more than others. In Apt Pupil, there was always something lurking, something that was going to happen, I could feel it. The tension was paramount throughout, leading to an explosive and satisfying ending. Neither characters were likable due to their natures, but it was fascinating to experience their discomfort, their constant fear, and their growing disdain of those they felt were beneath them.

The past is the past, but is it truly? Todd is affected by things that happened before he was born, and yet he is living them.

The dialogue was just great. I was in the 1970s, experiencing the slang of teenage Todd and the second-language love of idioms by Dussander. Stephen King also has a gift of taking similes and idioms a step further, making them his own. There were some quotes that had me laughing.

“It was impossible to tell his age. Todd put him at somewhere between thirty and four hundred.”

“Don’t you dare die on me, you old f***!”

“He looked like death with a hangover.”

It was a fun little Easter egg that Andy Dufresne of Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption was mentioned, too. He was one of Dussander’s bankers before he (Dufresne) was arrested.

Apt Pupil was awesome, and I might check out the movie at some point. I give this charming novella five stars.

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Book Review: “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” by Stephen King

Movie buffs, Morgan Freeman fans, or anyone with good taste in film has seen or at least heard of the 1994 masterpiece The Shawshank Redemption starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Of course, it was a novella first, written by the American master of horror, Stephen King.

I recently received a paperback named Different Seasons as a belated wedding gift containing four of King’s novellas, one of which is the 129-page Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which would inspire the classic movie released twelve years after the story’s publication.

91h9ji0d2KL._RI_Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is the story of two men convicted of murder – one guilty, one innocent – who form the perfect partnership as they dream up a scheme to escape from prison.”

It isn’t a horror, though arguably the true “horrors” of prison life, such as “solitary” conditions, bribery, rape, are discussed. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is a tale about perseverance, patience, and hope. It’s about holding onto what’s right and staying strong even in the toughest of times.

The book is just a novella, and a lot was added to make it into a movie. It’s not the only of King’s stories to be adapted in this way; more examples include The Mist and 1408 (which, incidentally, are both horrors).

It’s written from Red’s point of view, and though the story is about Andy and his time at the prison of Shawshank, we find out a lot about how Red observes, thinks, and feels. Interestingly, Red was a white man in the book (described as having greying red hair), but Morgan Freeman was perfect for the role in the movie adaptation.

Red is the person who can get things for you. In prison, he’s an important man who’s approached when someone needs things like alcohol, a pack of cards, or a dirty book. His friendship with Andy begins when the younger inmate asks him to get a poster of Rita Hayworth to put in his cell.

Andy shows up at Shawshank for killing his wife and her lover, and appears mild-mannered, calm, and even casual; he strolls about as though he’s at ease with the world and his words are carefully chosen. After advising a guard on how to keep his inheritance without it being taxed, Andy, who had been a banker before his stretch in prison, starts helping the other guards with his finances and, in turn, gets to live alone in his cell and is protected from the Sisters, a vicious gang of rapists.

You might know the rest of the story, and if you haven’t, I won’t give it all away.

Red tells the story in an order that isn’t chronological, often jumping back and forth between the years to talk about events and people. Much of it is also skimmed over, told rather than shown, which I thought would be against the number one rule in writing. Though it wasn’t completely confusing, it was jarring at times to go from the early ’70s back to 1959, but since I knew the story it wasn’t completely baffling. I did think, though, that I would have preferred to be shown through certain events rather than them being mentioned off-hand as something leading up to the “present.”

The movie also improved on many things. If you haven’t seen the film or read the book, stop reading now. If you don’t care about spoilers or you know the tale, read on.

**WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!**

There are some vast differences between Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and its movie adaptation. Here are a few examples.

  • In the movie, the leader of the Sisters is beaten to within an inch of his life for his treatment of Andy. In the book, they fade into the background when Andy is given protection.
  • Tommy, the young man who met the real killer of Andy’s wife, is transferred to a minimum-security prison, a sort of bribe by the Warden to get him out of the way. In the film, he’s shot dead by a guard; it’s an evil and shocking twist, though the concept of Andy’s only hope willingly leaving him behind is sadder and, in a way, darker.
  • Red doesn’t officially find Andy in the book. It ends with him out of prison and receiving the hidden letter he found after following his best friend’s clues and clinging to the hope that he may track him down someday. Movie watchers enjoy happy endings, and the on-screen story had a much more feel-good ending. Whether that means it’s better is debatable.
  • The best change from book to film was what happened to the Warden. After Andy’s escape (which is identical in both versions), Warden goes a bit loopy and retires early, always wondering how Andy managed to outsmart him. In the film, he’s found out for all the scams he’s running and fatally shoots himself.

Stephen King’s writing was impeccable, as always; it felt very ’50s, with plenty of old slang that was a joy to read. There were some amazingly funny quotes, too, which had me giggling as I read the paperback on the train.

“A man humping his butt across country in a gray pajama
suit sticks out like a cockroach on a wedding cake.”

“Cell doors opened; prisoners stepped in; cell doors closed. Some clown shouting, ‘I want my lawyer, I want my lawyer, you guys run this place just like a frigging prison.’”

“One wit suggested that Andy had poured himself out through the keyhole. The suggestion earned the guy four days in solitary. They were uptight.”

The image of an inmate, who probably detests the guards and is good at acting dumb, making a completely useless suggestion for kicks tickled me pink.

Overall, the book was a charming day in the life (though the story spans over several decades) of two inmates, one of which manages the impossible out of patience, dreams, and hope. Andy is a gorgeous character, mysterious and calm and completely likable. Overall, I think I prefer the movie, but the book was still a pleasure to read and I’ll probably reread it in the future. I give Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption four stars out of five.

4stars

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Book Review: “Lair” (The Rats Trilogy Book 2) by James Herbert

Lair is the sequel to The Rats, British horror writer James Herbert’s debut novel. Lair was published in 1979, five years after its predecessor and Herbert’s sixth book overall. The old cover art of Lair is too adorable not to show you!

It takes place four years after “the Outbreak,” the coined term for the infestation that led to hundreds dead in London and eventual evacuation to exterminate the filth.

Carrying on from the epilogue, several rats survived the onslaught, and though they are much fewer in number, they escape from their hiding place to wait, hide, and breed until their thirst for human flesh brings them to the surface again.

*Note: this review contains some spoilers.

lair-1

“The mutant white rat had grown and mated, creating offspring in its own image. They dominated the others, the dark-furred ones, who foraged for food and brought it back to the lair.

Now the dark rats were restless, tormented by a craving they could not satisfy. But the white slug-like thing that ruled them knew. Its two heads weaved to and fro and a stickiness drooled from its mouth as it remembered the taste of human flesh . . .”

Unlike in The Rats, Lair takes place in Epping Forest, a large wood on the outskirts of London. It takes longer for the vermin to attack this time; there are many “close calls” and sightings, building up the tension for the first third of the novel. Always, I wondered whether a new scene would lead to an unfortunate death or a lucky escape.

One aspect I really liked about the first installment is Herbert’s quick introduction to the backstories and lives of the characters, whether or not they fall victim to the rats. Whether suggested by his editor or on his own, it’s unclear, but it seemed like many of the victims were not very nice people and therefore it was less upsetting and more fun reading about their deaths or encounters with ruined corpses. A couple cheating on their spouses. A pervert who likes to flash young women. A grumpy farmer who doesn’t trust the law.

Harris, the main character from book one, is briefly mentioned, but we’re introduced to a new MC: Ratkill employee called Lucas Pender, our hero of Lair. Their struggle to track down and eliminate the rats in Epping Forest is real. The rats are stronger, smarter, and more deadly than ever before, often outsmarting their mortal enemies even though the humans know not to underestimate them.

Some scenes had me on the edge of my seat. Would they escape? Would the protective suits, which worked so well in the past, hold against the onslaught of vicious teeth? Would they finally destroy the creatures or had the rats hidden too well?

Herbert introduced political aspects to the novel, suggesting the economic consequences of an infestation in Epping Forest, an area that is home to hundreds of people and a green belt area that London politicians would dearly love to seize. The hesitation of the forest’s protectors exacerbates the situation despite Pender’s early warnings, giving the story a very real edge. How many times in the real world has common sense been abandoned for the sake of money and control?

The story was all about action and not much character development. I wasn’t aware Whittaker had a beard until almost the end of the book. If there was any description of Pender, I missed it; I imagined him as a normal-looking white bloke with darkish hair. I wasn’t keen on the love scene, but that’s personal preference; I tend to skip over over-the-top descriptions of sex and it didn’t feel it really had a place in a sci-fi horror. I appreciate that it might have been a respite from the gore, however, and it didn’t ruin the story for me.

All in all, Lair was pretty good. The shock value had worn off after recently reading The Rats, of course – there are only so many ways you can describe someone getting torn apart and eaten to death – but Herbert handled it well, offering fresh environments and more tension with creative new ways for the rats to attack and take their victims by surprise.

The ending was great. We finally find out the location of the rats’ lair and there was plenty of excitement. I can’t say much else without giving it all away!

If you haven’t read The Rats yet, it’s a great classic horror. I’ll probably wait a while to read the final in the trilogy, Domain, so perhaps the gory scenes can be shocking and scary again. That being said, Lair had plenty of tension to make up for it, and it’ll be interesting to see where Domain takes the story of these mutant rats that just won’t die! Lair was a fun read, and I give it four stars out of five.

4stars

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