A Book Review Blog

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Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

I will admit to cheating a little with Heart-Shaped Box, as I had already read it several years before. It was my book of choice on a college trip to Berlin and I remember some good evenings spent curled up in a youth hostel scaring myself silly. But I’d forgotten some of the details of the book and thought that now would be a good time to remind myself of why I loved this book.

Heart-Shaped Box follows Judas Coyne, a middle-aged rock star who has gone into semi-retirement following the deaths of the majority of his band, and generally being tired with the whole business of being a rock star. He receives an email that says “Buy my stepfather’s ghost”. As he has a collection of the macabre, mostly consisting of twisted gifts from his fans, it seems like the perfect addition. But when the ghost is delivered to Jude, a dead man’s suit in a black heart-shaped box, he finds that the ghost that he has allowed into his life had a grudge against him during life and is hardly about to let death stand in the way of his plans for revenge.
I really loved Heart-Shaped Box the first time round, and the second time was similarly entertaining. I will say during this second read, there were a couple things that stuck out as needing work that I didn’t notice as a younger woman. But I’ll start with what the book gets right.
Firstly, I personally really liked the main characters, Jude and Georgia/Marybeth. I’ve seen a lot of reviews that criticise them for being flat and predictable, but I think that’s too harsh a line to take. Sure, ageing rock star and his significantly younger groupie girlfriend isn’t exactly the most original of archetypes to run with, but I don’t take much issue with this for a couple of reasons. First of all, you don’t tend to get these character archetypes as the main protagonists, so I’m happy to switch focus to them for a while. Second, the development that they both go is pretty damn significant, even if it’s kept a bit low-key compared to the whole “we’re being chased by a homicidal ghost” thing. They go from being a pair of desperately unhappy people who are unable to deal with all of their emotional baggage to a couple that can last through thick and thin, knowing that there’s someone who has seen them at their worst and decided to stick around.
The villain, Craddock, is a bit on the cartoonishly evil side of things, having pretty much no positive features either alive or dead, but then I think that’s about right when it comes to the supernatural. For me, there is a big factor about a supernatural evil that influences how scary I find them, which is whether they can be reasoned with. It’s the reason that I find zombies much worse than vampires. With vampires, there’s the potential for a spark of humanity that can be exploited by the quick-witted to possibly get out of the situation alive. With zombies, there is no reasoning with them, leaving you with a zero-sum situation. Craddock has no positive qualities or virtues that can be appealed to and combined with his incorporeal form and eerie mind powers makes him a formidable foe.
The main issue that I had with Heart-Shaped Box in my second reading was that the really unsettling stuff seems to be in the first part, with each subsequent part getting less scary as it goes on. This could be because as they go on, Jude and Marybeth gather some additional tools to combat Craddock with. But then they also get increasingly on-edge and beaten up, so that sort of balances out. Part of it is probably that the character development does make up a big chunk of the road trip that takes up the latter part of the novel. But the thing that sticks out in my mind most is a scene right near the end of the first part which is just so fucked-up and creepy that pretty much everything after it pales in comparison. Afterwards the horror is more slow-burn, which only emphasises how good that shock to the system scare is.

I thoroughly enjoyed my second read-through of Heart-Shaped Box. While it does suffer scare-wise after having its most shocking and nauseatingly creepy scene fairly early on, the ghost is persistent and subtle enough that there is at least a decent amount of tension throughout. The main characters aren’t necessarily the most original, but the personal development that they both go through is pretty damn good. I’d definitely recommend this for horror fans or maybe as a starting point for someone looking to get into the genre. 4.5/5

Next review: Banebringer by Carol A. Park

Signing off,

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

If I hadn’t gotten Stolen as part of an audiobook bundle, I probably would have passed it by. While I’m not averse to Young Adult novels, I usually end up pairing them with other genres like Fantasy or Science Fiction, rather than Contemporary. If I want to read about real life, my first instinct would be to reach for Non-Fiction. Nonetheless, the premise did intrigue me somewhat, and if I already had a copy there seemed no point avoiding it.

Stolen is narrated by Gemma, a 16-year-old girl who is kidnapped while en route with her parents to Vietnam. When she steps away to get a coffee, an older man buys coffee for her, drugging it to make sure she doesn’t try and struggle. He takes her to the Australian outback, to a desolate outpost of his own making that she can only survive in with his aid.
I wanted to like Stolen because the blurb made it sound like a bid for survival against incredible odds. It is most certainly not that. I read this in what was a barely contained simmer of anger and frustration. There were a few reasons for this, and they can be embodied in the two main characters: the victim, Gemma, and the kidnapper, Ty.
So, first of all, Gemma. There were a couple things that bugged me about her. First was the fact that she didn’t seem to have a whole lot of personality. I appreciate that when confined to an isolated outpost in the Australian bush, there’s only a certain amount that you can do to signpost character building, but even the flashbacks she had about before she was kidnapped were more or less bare of personality. So it transpires that the kidnapper was first drawn to Gemma when she was a child, and her make-believe involved flower fairies, and the fact that she engaged in imaginative play like every other child in existence somehow made her special. When she got into her teenage years, she started resenting her parents for controlling her life! So special! So utterly normal for someone going through massive hormonal changes! The only other thing that comes up is her getting wasted in the park with her friends, which is also, say it with me, entirely mundane and not at all special for someone of her age group. At the end of the book, I knew practically nothing about her as a person beyond the stereotype of a middle class teenager. There are no hobbies that I can list, I know nothing about her friends despite her name-checking them multiple times during the narrative, there are no personality traits that I can name now that it’s all over. So there’s not much incentive for me to want her to get home. Additionally, and this is probably a personal issue, she doesn’t seem to make much of the opportunities that she gets to escape. My husband finds it endlessly amusing that my reaction to most conflict in films can boil down to “Find the person responsible for the problem, and start breaking bones until the problem can be considered solved.” Violent and a bit reductionist I accept, but it can be vaguely amusing. Not here. Here, that tendency just made the whole captivity bit endlessly frustrating. For example, there’s a part where Ty gets a load of scratches on his hands and he pleads with her to help him clean up the wounds, otherwise his hands will be useless. When she first asked what he would do for her in return, I could have cheered. She asks to be taken back home, and he refuses. Fair enough, more or less what I expected. But then she just kind of drops the matter, and asks him some useless fucking question about how he built the hovel that he expects her to treat like a fucking palace. And my mind went wild, asking questions about why she didn’t double down and keep asking to be taken back. Hell, a large part of me was screaming at her to find some lye, and see how long he really wanted to be stuck with her after that. She kept hesitating, like she can somehow reason with Ty.
Which brings me to my second major problem with the book. I could have appreciated Ty as a villain, if the narrative didn’t want so much for the reader to want to fix him. He’s kidnapped a girl almost a decade younger than him who he’s been stalking since she was 10, sure, but look at how pretty and muscular he is. He’s a hypocrite who wants freedom for himself but sees no issue with abducting anyone or anything that he could benefit from, but you can’t be mad because he had a traumatic childhood. He’ll prevent anything that Gemma wants unless it directly coincides with what he wants, but he hasn’t raped her so of course it doesn’t count as actual abuse. Sure, Stockholm Syndrome is brought up in the final chapter, but that doesn’t mean I have to like how the narrative goes. There’s a line towards the end where Gemma says “It’s hard to hate someone once you understand them”, and I hate it with a passion. Just because an abuser does something nice doesn’t make up for all the awful things that they do. It reminded me of a scene in An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan, which is a hell of a harrowing read, but a really valuable experience in my opinion. There’s a scene where the kidnappers, after months of horrific mistreatment, throw a birthday party for one of the hostages. It shows a more vulnerable side to the jailers, but all it does is make them repulsive instead. And that is what Ty’s “tragic” backstory does for me: instead of making him more sympathetic, he only becomes more disgusting and pathetic. And the fact that anyone is taking anything romantic out of Stolen just makes me sick to my stomach.
About the only thing I did like was the description of the Australian outback. It’s vivid and colourful and sensual, and I could only wish that such descriptions were contained in a less objectionable story.

Some pretty descriptions of the outback are about the only good thing that can be taken from Stolen. Otherwise it’s an anger-inducing story about a girl utterly lacking in personality, who slowly becomes convinced that as her kidnapper hasn’t tried raping or killing her, that means it’s twue wuv. Christ, it’s utterly nauseating. Newsflash, abuse isn’t sexy and Stockholm Syndrome isn’t romantic. Don’t touch with a barge pole. 1/5

Next review: Abandon by Meg Cabot

Signing off,

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls was a book that I stole from my mum after she had finished reading it, although she seems to have forgotten it entirely by the time that I actually got round to reading it. I took it partly because I was intrigued by the premise, and partly because I had heard good things about the author Lauren Beukes.

The Shining Girls focuses on two main characters, Kirby and Harper. Kirby is a young woman who is trying to put her life back together after a brutal attack that nearly killed her. Attempting to track down the man who tried to kill her, she starts finding evidence that she isn’t the first woman who he has attacked, but some of the evidence is just impossible. Meanwhile Harper, having found a house that inexplicably allows him to travel anywhere within the years 1929 and 1993, is compelled to kill a set of girls whose names he has found written on the walls of one of the rooms upstairs, leaving a memento from one of his other kills at the scene of her death.
So I really wanted the whole time travelling serial killer premise to work for me, but it just doesn’t. It’s quite disappointing, especially as the writing itself is solid and engaging. But for me, the time travel just wasn’t implemented well, leading to two main problems.
Firstly, it’s really tough to make a thriller tense when you know that most of the awful stuff that the serial killer is going to do has, in another character’s timeline, already happened. Sure, the murder scenes are really well-written and horrifying in and of themselves, but it’s tough to maintain the tension when the reaction to each new female perspective chapter is “well, here’s the next sacrificial lamb”. The time and attention spent fleshing them out and giving them engaging problems seems kind of wasted since the reader knows that the next time their name crops up, they’ll be dead by the end of the chapter.
Secondly, it uses my most despised type of time travel, the ontological paradox, also known as a causal loop. If you’re not familiar with that, essentially it’s if person A is given an item by the elderly person B, then goes back in time to give that item to a younger version of person B. At which point you sit there and wonder how the item came into being in the first place if it’s constantly looping between two points in time. It drives me up the wall, and the aggravating part is that Beukes spends so much time setting up this closed loop. Spoiler alert, it turns out at the end that the reason the House makes Harper want to kill people is because the House is Harper’s spirit. Which is just infuriating, because it wants to be so clever and thematic, but it just brings up questions. How are the girls picked out as victims? Harper keeps mentioning that they shine, but the narrative never elaborates on what that is exactly. The only way that Harper knows about who he needs to kill and when he needs to go to kill them is via the House, so there’s never any thought process about why or how his victims are selected. It unwittingly leads to Harper being a more or less flat character, as he has no real motivations other than follow the House’s lead, for reasons that are never explained.

The Shining Girls is a prime example of an interesting premise that is its own worst enemy. What interest there could be from the impossible serial killer storyline is sabotaged by its own use of dated time travel tropes. There’s little tension because all the killings have already happened in one timeline or another, and the painstakingly constructed causal loop only brings up questions of how this all comes about as well as depriving the main villain of any meaningful motivation. The only saving grace is the writing itself, but there’s only so much that can be saved from this plot. 2.5/5

Next review: Blood Rites by Jim Butcher

Signing off,

Stalkers by Paul Finch

It’s been a while since I’ve read any police procedural novels, mostly because my tendency when buying is to drift towards cosy or historical mysteries first. My mum, on the other hand, is very much a fan of police procedurals, so I ended up stealing this book off of her once she’d finished reading it. Which raises the question, have I been missing much in the genre?

The last thing that Mark Heckenberg needs to hear from his superiors at work is that the case that he has spent years building is to be shut down. When said case could potentially find almost 40 missing women who had no reason to disappear, he is even more unwilling to just let this lie. So he ventures out on his own, soon attracting the attention of Lauren Wraxford, the ex-army sister of one of the missing women, who forces herself into his investigation. Unfortunately, his investigations also attract the attention of the dangerous group responsible for these disappearances.
Right, so I have some mixed feelings about this. On the surface, Stalkers is a very competent thriller. It has a tense premise, with some very intimidating villains and the tension is kept high throughout. I guess the thing that kind of bothers me about Stalkers is the way that the subject matter is handled. You find out pretty quickly that the women abducted by the main villains are targeted to be raped and murdered, after being picked out by a rich man close to them. Considering how sensitive a subject rape is, and how often it involves specifically female victims, it has a weirdly “she had it coming” vibe at times. While the rapists involved are rightfully depicted as the scum that they are, the victim that the narrative follows at first has a line of thought that is distinctly male. She’s going through her daily routine and thinking to herself how fortunate she is that she can rely on her looks to put her above women who are just as qualified as she is. Speaking from my experience, that does not sound believable. Women don’t really think in that way, and honestly, if a woman is attractive enough to garner sexual attentions from their boss or coworkers, that shit is often entirely unwelcome. For the victim to be portrayed even slightly okay with her male coworkers leering at her invites the reader to think that she unwittingly encouraged her attacker. That will never be an acceptable attitude for me. So while Stalkers does get a lot right, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, because it introduces an element of grey into rape, which should be as black and white as it gets.

While technically a good thriller, it portrays the victim as “encouraging” her attacker, and for me that just isn’t acceptable. Maybe you might be able to overlook that, but it just leaves a bitter taste in my mouth that ruins what would have been an otherwise tense thriller. 2.5/5

Next review: Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce

Signing off,

Weekend by Christopher Pike

When I was a teenager, I used to stay around my grandparents’ house a lot over the school holidays, and they would always allow me to use their library card. Whilst exploring the library there, I first discovered Christopher Pike, whose books I would have a love-hate relationship with from that day. I have previously read Weekend, but it has been a while and I wanted to see how it held up.

In Weekend we follow a group of friends who are spending their last days before graduation on holiday in Mexico. But what should be a dream holiday is made tense by memories of an unexplained accident that left one of their party severely ill. These tensions are ramped up as things go wrong one by one, starting with the phone lines going dead.
I’d forgotten just how 80s this novel feels at times. These days you’d have to write in why no-one is using a mobile phone for one thing. But mainly, the characters feel very reminiscent of the kind of teenagers that you got in films from that generation, both in teen dramas and slasher films. None of them are really all that likeable, but they’re entertaining enough that you want them to stay alive. While that can be really cheesy here, it does feel kind of comfortable. Like nothing new has been made here, but the stuff that does come up is handled at least competently. After the irritation that was The Benson Murder Case, I think I needed a bit of comfort reading.
Admittedly, I’m not sure why Weekend is labelled as horror, considering that it only barely flirts with the genre in the most minimal way possible. And of Christopher Pike’s work, it is also one of the least scary. If you start reading it expecting scares, then you’d be disappointed. If you’re looking for a pretty decent thriller and mystery, then you’re probably on safer territory.

Overall, pretty cheesy and very 80s in feel, but quite good if you’re looking for something comforting and easy on the brain. One of Pike’s less tense books, but still one of the most tonally consistent of his works. 3.5/5

Next review: Batman: The Dark Knight: Golden Dawn by David Finch & Jason Fabok

Signing off,

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

As is my wont, I have left reading one of the most touted books of 2012 until now, long after any kind of hype has died down. I even put off seeing Gone Girl in the cinema because I don’t like seeing the film adaptation before the original book. So after all that, was it worth the staunch praise, and can I say that suffering through Mr Turner was worth not having it spoiled? 

Gone Girl follows Nick Dunne, a former writer and current bar owner, on the day of his fifth wedding anniversary to Amy. He hasn’t been looking forward to the day due to their marriage hitting a few bumps, but things look to get a lot worse when he goes home after work to find the door to his house wide open, signs of a struggle in the living room and Amy nowhere to be found. The police are soon involved and quickly find that maybe Nick and Amy’s marriage isn’t as rosy as he would like to present it as. 
This book is messed up in so many ways and I absolutely loved it. There isn’t much I can really say plot-wise beyond the summary provided above for risk of spoilers, but I will say that it is really worth going into Gone Girl without any prior knowledge of the plot. The twists and turns are spoon-fed to the reader over the course of the narrative, so while there were several parts that I hadn’t expected, it never felt like the revelation was unnatural or forced. 
The character development is similarly solid. Flynn has a real talent for balancing positive and negative qualities in characters, then bringing out certain elements in order to create a certain caricature depending on what the narrative needs. Only towards the end do you get a real grasp on what makes certain central characters tick. And it really explores just how far you can stretch a husband-wife dynamic before it stops being real. 
A very short review this time, but only because there’s only so much that I can say without spoilers and you really need to read this with a fresh perspective. If you like thrillers in any way, then you need to read this if you haven’t already. The plot and character building are pulled off masterfully. 5/5 
Next review: Sourcery by Terry Pratchett 
Signing off, 

Rose Madder by Stephen King

Rose Madder isn’t a Stephen King novel that gets talked about much, especially when you consider how much attention some of his work does get. Honestly, until I found this again on my shelf, I had kind of forgotten that it even existed, let alone what the book was actually about. I think the only thing that I sort of remembered was reading that King himself was kind of disappointed with Rose Madder. So I guess I was curious to see how it would pan out.

Rose Madder follows Rosie, a woman who decides to leave her physically abusive husband Norman after a 14 year loveless marriage that has already caused her to miscarry once. Armed only with a few hundred dollars that she took from their joint account, she journeys to a new city, where she slowly starts to regain friendship, independence, self-respect and even a little romance. But her newfound happiness may be short-lived, because Norman isn’t the type of man who can handle the thought that Rosie not only left him, but took his money in the same move. And even he may pale in comparison to the danger that Rosie lets in herself without even realising.
I can definitely see why King refers to Rose Madder as a “stiff, trying-too-hard” novel. I don’t know if this is the best way to describe it, but I would say that there was a real sense that Rose Madder was deliberately constructed, at least in comparison to some of King’s other novels. With King, I always got the sense that the bulk of his stories come out in one lump, with some tidying up done after the first draft. You know, making sure that characters act in ways that make sense or highlighting thematic links, that kind of thing. In comparison, Rose Madder felt more like the IKEA version of King: competently constructed, but hardly his best work.
Whilst I’m talking about how the novel doesn’t work, I should probably mention the supernatural element. So it’s a painting that Rosie finds, from which we get the novel’s title, and it is somehow the most stiff and awkward part of the narrative, and yet the flimsiest as well. It is when the painting comes to the fore that you really start to notice how obvious the construction is, because it’s this clumsy mish-mash of Greek mythology references that really don’t mesh well with the modern (at the time of writing anyway) American feel of the novel as a whole. It’s all the more noticeable when you’re like me and read a LOT of Greek myths as a child, and you get the references. So yeah, while the Ancient Greek angle could have worked quite well, it needed to pick a particular myth and expand on it instead of cherry-picking. As it is, we have a weird mix of Theseus and the Minotaur, the River of Lethe, Persephone in the Underworld, and a blending of the Furies with the Cretan Bull, all of which have very different tones and themes. So that’s the stiff part, now for the flimsy. While King’s books rarely explain the supernatural elements in great detail, it’s usually understandable from a thematic point of view. He had devil surrogates in The Stand and Needful Things representing ways that people can stray from the path if they don’t pay attention, and the eldritch monsters from Hearts in Atlantis were a nice metaphor for the loss and fear experienced if we grow up too quickly. Here, there is no theme that the whole painting marries with. Sure, the image of the bull works nicely as a metaphor for her brutish husband, but the rest of the painting could do with a bit more explaining. Maybe the woman in the painting is her, maybe it isn’t. It’s never really explained and it just makes the climax confusing and conflicting with Rosie’s story as an abused woman. Because while I can accept Rosie regaining confidence and beating her husband through wiles, I find the whole “suppressed rage” thing that comes up towards the end to be unsatisfying. It doesn’t fit the character arc if she sinks to her husband’s level.
One thing that I will concede works well is Norman’s sections. I have found some reviewers who consider him to be a bit of a one-note villain and I can see why (the corrupt cop who is happy to dish out police brutality is also a domestic abuser, really?), but the sections that followed him in his search for his errant wife were by far the most vivid and creepy of the novel. There is a line of reasoning in his inner monologue that is utterly awful, but makes him feel so much more immediate as a villain. Honestly, I think that Rose Madder could have been so much stronger if it had done away with the supernatural stuff and just focused on the cat and mouse game between runaway wife and abusive husband. It might not necessarily be the most original novel without the supernatural element, but a more solid and even-toned read perhaps.

Rose Madder is the first of Stephen King’s books that I find myself not recommending. It’s disappointing, because there is a very solid basis for a great book in Norman’s increasingly deranged hunt for his wife, but there are just so many things that don’t work that I can’t really say that it’s a necessity to read. A large part of that is a supernatural element in the eponymous painting, because the mish-mash of Greek mythology references and uncertain origins do not marry well and just leads to a tonally confused ending. I suppose entertaining enough if you’re looking to complete reading King’s works, but by no means one of his best. 3/5

Next review: Mort by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,

A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde by Kevin MacNeil

Continuing in my literary vein, I decided to pick up A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde. I am something of a fan of the original Robert Louis Stevenson story, and the theme of duality is always an interesting one to explore. Add in the promise of a bit of the supernatural and I was really looking forward to this.

Robert Lewis is a young actor currently rehearsing for the dual role of Jekyll and Hyde in a new production of the Stevenson play. When he is the victim of a bike accident one foggy morning in his home city of Edinburgh, he leaves the hospital and finds the world stranger and darker than he remembered it. He must try and resume his life as best he can when the world seems to be actively conspiring against him.
I hated this novel so damn much. There are two principle reasons for why A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde just does not work, and conveniently it works out as one reason for each part that the novel is split into.
So, the reason I didn’t like Part 1? The main character Robert. He was a reasonably well fleshed-out character, but that didn’t matter, because apparently all this guy could do was whine and gripe about how much better an actor he is than everybody else and why does nobody love him?! When your plot for the entirety of the first part is a complaining two-bit hack being repeatedly humiliated by similarly awful people and planning to get revenge on his not-quite-ex-girlfriend, it gets really pathetic really quickly. I had hoped for it to improve as he got more into the role of Jekyll and Hyde, but then Part 2 happened and it just plummeted even further in my estimation than I ever thought it could.
The reason I didn’t like Part 2 is some major spoiler material, but at this point I doubt that I am selling this piece of trash to anyone, so here goes anyway. Part 2 is where you find out that it was all a dream. Honest to god, it turns out that the entirety of the previous part was a dream experienced while a writer was in a coma following a bike accident. I didn’t think that a twist this hackneyed and cliched actually passed through publication houses. I don’t think I’ve actually seen this twist played out since I was in pre-school, and that was only because people assume that children have ridiculously low standards. So not only have I suffered through Robert’s bitching and snivelling in the first place, but it then turns out to be entirely pointless because he’s not actually real. Great. I am still considering burning A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde, it pissed me off that much. You cannot pull bullshit like this and then parade it around like it’s high art. No.

I am just so angry at this book for wasting my time. The first part is marred by a protagonist so up his own arse that he could probably count as a genuine ouroboros, and then the second part manages to make it even worse with a twist that is usually confined to the worst and most patronising of children’s fiction. Don’t bother with this at all. 1/5

Next review: Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Signing off,

Plugged by Eoin Colfer

I’ve been a fan of Eoin Colfer’s since I was around 9 years old, mainly for his Artemis Fowl series. But I was only really aware of him as an author of children and young adult books, so when I saw Plugged, a crime novel for adults, I was intrigued.

Daniel McAvoy’s life is decidedly on the discontent side. Working as a doorman at a seedy casino in New Jersey, he goes from dealing with sleazy customers at work to dealing with a psychotic neighbour and encroaching baldness at home. His life is about to become a whole lot worse, however, when his on-off girlfriend is found dead outside the casino and his best friend, a doctor practicing without a license and with a dubious grasp on both medical procedure and good business practices, goes missing. With conspiracies crowding in and making his life ever more hazardous, Dan must draw on his former army experiences in order to get out alive.
Normally I would shy away from a crime novel that was this blatantly aiming for humour, but because my experiences with Colfer’s work has been largely positive thus far, I decided that I’d give it a shot. It works really well, and for one reason that is normally absent in crime fiction. I think the reason that the comedy works in Plugged is because all the characters are kind of rubbish. Normally in crime fiction, the stakes are really high and every mistake is going to come back at some point to bite the characters where it hurts. In Plugged, everyone involved are ultimately small players in the wider scheme of things. They’re not in New York proper, they’re in some ratty small town in New Jersey. While the crime boss that Dan has to deal with is a threat, he’s only a big player on this small stage. It makes it feel kind of like a story that the Cohen brothers would direct, full of characters who are, to quote the game Fiasco, full of “powerful ambition and poor impulse control”. Mistakes happen almost constantly throughout the narrative, and it’s absolutely wonderful to see Dan just have to add that to the list of shit that he needs to deal with. It really makes the humour work, and I was already a big fan of Colfer’s sense of humour. I don’t think I’ve grinned so much at the bus stop in a long while.
In comparison to the comedy side of things, I think that the actual crime part could use some work. While I’m all for seeing more of Colfer writing about these small-time crooks, I think the tone maybe needs a bit of tightening. While I did like the humour, I thought that it was sprinkled perhaps too liberally during the scenes that should be really tense. Shootouts and standoffs feel like they should be handled more seriously, even if the people involved are nowhere near as important as they think they are. I mean, considering how high the body count gets, it doesn’t really feel all that shocking, even when it really should do. It’s not a huge problem for me, but if you like your murders with a bit more seriousness then this might be a bit blase for you.

A very funny novel about conspiracies and small-time crooks who want to be big-time crooks. The humour is absolutely stellar, though it does take away from the impact of some scenes that would otherwise be more shocking and impactful. 4/5

Next review: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis

Signing off,

Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King

Since my last two books have been more than a little disappointing, I thought that I would go back to an author that has been pretty consistently high in my estimation, Stephen King. I chose Dolores Claiborne because I vaguely remember watching the film adaptation many years ago and rather enjoying it. I wanted to see if the book was as good.

Dolores Claiborne is the confession of the eponymous Ms Claiborne after she had driven herself to her local police station. Widely suspected of killing her long-term employer, she decides that she is going to make a clean breast of it and reveal all: about how she killed her husband and got away with it, and how her employer’s death was an accident.
Stephen King states in his book On Writing that he never starts with a character, always with a “What If…” scenario, and doesn’t have much time for character studies as a result. I can imagine that this will seem unlikely with regards to Dolores Claiborne, considering just how much her character impacts this novel. Due to the fact that it is a first person narrative, and an explicit confession at that, it is an intensely personal and intimate experience to read. I think that, as a result, your enjoyment of the book will depend largely on how much you like Dolores herself. I personally rather liked her, perhaps relating to the fact that she is a perennially-grumpy bitch by her own admission. Throughout the book, she displays a refreshing amount of understanding about herself and an unwillingness to suffer fools kindly, whether that foolishness come from other people or herself. That is a large part of what drives her reactions to the situations that arise from her relationships with both her husband Joe and her employer Vera, so if you like your protagonists to be a little softer and kinder, then you may wish to look elsewhere. For me, Dolores Claiborne was a more or less perfect novel, with some really vivid characterisation and revelations that are flawlessly timed. I personally wish that there was more of Vera, but then I have a bit of a weak spot for characters who almost revel in their own viciously spiteful natures and yet still remain classy as hell.

For me, this was a compelling character study with complex relationships and well-timed plot reveals. I personally found nothing to fault it with. I would say that your enjoyment of Dolores Claiborne will ultimately depend on how much you like Dolores herself though, so if bitchy old ladies aren’t your thing then you may wish to skip this one. I’d be more than happy to recommend this though. 5/5

Next review: The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis

Signing off,

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