Book blogger hop: Scary movies (at least in my world)…

Halloween EditionIt’s being a while since I took part in a book blogger hop but, today, the urge struck and – unlike the last few weeks – the question was one I could answer with more than one sentence (one sentence always seems like such a waste of a post).

The other nice thing about this week, after writing three reviews back to back, is that it’s not about books.  It’s about movies…

Off the book topic – What is your favourite scary movie?

So, when it comes to scary movies I have to say I am a bit of wimp.  I think I want to be scared – but, when it comes down to it, I don’t really.  I blame my parents (who doesn’t?), who let me watch scary movies as a child, thinking because they were old and in black and white they were harmless.  How wrong they were!Read More »

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The Binding Song by Elodie Harper

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Dr Janet Palmer is the new lead psychologist at HMP Halvergate in a remote, bleak area of Norfolk. At first, she was excited by the promotion. Then she starts to see how many secrets are hiding behind the high walls.

A string of inmates have committed suicide, leaving no reasons why, and her predecessor has disappeared – along with his notes. The staff are hostile, the threat of violence is ever-present, and there are rumours of an eyeless woman stalking the corridors, punishing the inmates for their sins.

Janet is determined to find out what is really going on. But the longer she stays and the deeper she digs, the more uncertain she feels.

Halvergate is haunted by something. But it may be a terror worse than ghosts…

First off, and shallow as it may sound, I have to say that I think the cover of The Binding Song is one of my favourites this year.  It is so simple yet says all it needs to about a book that is spooky and scary and right up my alley.  It’s what drew me to it (see I said I was shallow) so thank you to whoever designed it because what was inside the pages was a great read and an excellent debut.

It starts as it means to go on, with a man on the run, making his way through the woods in the dead of night and scared of his own shadow…as well as the shadow of someone else, the woman who has been haunting his dreams, urging him to kill himself – which he kindly obliges her by doing.  It’s a great opening, one that had me hooked. Read More »

Carrie by Stephen King

Iimage‘m not much of a one for horror stories (or so I say because given my love of all things vampire-related, I probably read more horror-ish books than I think) but that didn’t stop me signing up for the Spring into Horror read-a-thon organised by Michelle at Seasons of Reading. It’s a low pressure read-a-thon (one of the things I like about participating) and you only had to commit to reading one horror. Because I have never read any Stephen King – an author I immediately associate with horror – I decided he was the man to read.

After much humming, haa’ing, and attempting to read some of his lengthier novels, which left me daunted, I settled on Carrie – his first book and one that came in at just around 200 pages so it also felt manageable to read in a week (well less by the time I made the decision). After taking so long to settle on a book, I wasn’t feeling too positive when I started. That changed pretty quickly and I ended up really enjoying it.

Published in 1979, Carrie is almost as old as me and I imagine a story most people know. Carrie White is a teenager who has spent her entire live being bullied, by her schoolmates and her mother, a religious fanatic who locks her in the closet whenever she needs to be taught a lesson. What no one knows is that Carrie has telekinetic powers, powers she uses to deadly effect on the night of the high school prom and after a particularly nasty prank is played.

The book is in three parts, before prom, prom night, and the aftermath. It’s told through a mix of perspectives including Carrie’s, other students, her mother, and then excerpts from reports, scholarly articles and court transcripts written after the fact. It sounds confusing but it isn’t and it gives what is actually a very simple story more depth than it might have had otherwise. The changes in perspectives were also quite short, sometimes only a paragraph or two so it kept the story moving and me interested. Once I got used to the way the story flowed and the language, which had a bit of a stream of consciousness to it in some places, I found I couldn’t put it down.

I also found that I felt really sad for Carrie, despite the lives she took in the end. I didn’t blame her because there is only so much a human being can take and her classmates were cruel and her mom pretty evil for a God fearing woman. I didn’t feel bad for anyone she took revenge on, other than Tommy who took her to the prom and was a pretty decent guy.

I was surprised by what happened to Carrie at the end though. For some reason I had been expecting a different ending, not that I’m sure what it could have been. Despite this though, I wasn’t disappointed but actually pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the book. I may even go back to some of those meatier novels…liked this a lot.

Emma

Mr Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

imageSo whilst this isn’t technically part of my Spring into Horror read-a-thon reading, as it is billed as a gothic horror, I had thought that reviewing it today would be a good way to start the week.  Thought being the operative word as a) I’m not sure I would call it a horror, gothic or otherwise and b) it wasn’t that good, which I find myself really disappointed by as I was so looking forward to it when I started reading.

It starts off really well, with the oppressive atmosphere of an overly religious orphanage and two late teens – Ruth and Nat – talking to the dead, parents of other children left to basically rot in the upstate New York childcare system. It is a way of trying to take control of their lives and hide from the fear of not knowing what comes next (they are 18 in a year and will be without any home – good or bad – at all).

Then, one day, they meet Mr. Bell – a man without a home but with a vision of the lives they can all lead thanks to Nat’s ability to see dead people…or at least pretend to see dead people because it isn’t real (or is it? the book, on this part, keeps you guessing for a while).  As with all things in this book, however, Mr. Bell isn’t quite what he seems.  And neither is Zeke, Ruth’s suitor who appears out of nowhere.  Or Ruth or Nat or the Father who runs the orphanage with religious zeal.  It’s all a bit too much.

And then it gets more complicated because Ruth and Nat’s story is in the past and it’s running alongside Ruth and Cora’s story in the present.  Cora is Ruth’s niece, pregnant and persuaded by Ruth to walk across New York state without any reasons given.  They walk and walk and come across random strangers who behave in random ways.  Not one person in this book is normal or undamaged and, again, it’s all too much.  I feel like I was supposed to get something from it, from the ways they spoke, the things they said, that I just couldn’t because I was just so confused by what was going on.

The language, which was flowery and wandered, didn’t help and neither did the characterisations…I didn’t like anybody…but my main problem was my just not understanding what was happening or why.  Characters like Zeke came, went and then came back as someone else (without a nose which was never properly explained and didn’t seem to do much for the plot).  They all spoke a certain way, meaning people blurred into one, and their motives were questionable at best when revealed.   In fact, I’m not sure why I even finished reading, other than I hate putting a book down before the end.  Maybe I should have left this one alone and I wouldn’t have felt quite so disappointed – not one for me – Sorry!

Emma

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

So I did it, after days of struggling to read any book, let alone the only one I’d set myself for Frightfall, I finally found my rhythm late last week and got not only Frankenstein but also Eeny Meeny finished too (a review of that will follow later in the week).

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So, what did I think of Frankenstein? I liked it a lot, which I’d hoped I would.  A gothic novel and one of those books that you think you know the story of, even if you don’t, it was written by Mary Shelley when she was 18 and travelling in Europe with her future husband – Percy Shelley – and Lord Byron.

According to more than one source I read, they had challenged themselves to see who could write the best horror story – I didn’t find out if Mary Shelley won – and Frankenstein came to her in a dream.  The idea of a scientist who creates a monster and lives to regret it.

Having not read Frankenstein before, I was under the (apparently common) misconception that that was the name of the monster, not the man who created him.  That aside, though, the story itself seemed very familiar; even though I would swear I have never read the book or seen the film, I must have in my (much) younger days.

It is told by Frankenstein to the captain of a ship that rescues him from the icy waters around Siberia.  The captain (Robert Walton) introduces and ends the story through letters to his sister and the story itself was easy to read and easy to follow (coming in at just over 250 pages in my version).  Once I had gotten the rhythm, as I said, I found myself turning the pages and getting drawn into what was happening.

I didn’t find it scary though but, instead, quite sad.  Frankenstein’s monster (he doesn’t have a name) didn’t ask to be created and, once he was, was rejected by the man who created him.  He came to understand the world around him and that there was no place in it for him and no one willing to take the time to understand what he might be thinking or feeling.  It seemed to be a given that if he looked like a monster, he must be one, and so that is what he became, seeking revenge on Frankenstein and his family.

The revenge he took and the people he killed – it all seemed inevitable from Frankenstein’s first selfish act of thinking he could control life itself and I had no sympathy for him (Frankenstein) as a result, especially when his scientific mind couldn’t seem to see anything good in the creature.  I really did wish I could reach into the pages and give him a shake and say “listen to what your creation is saying”.  Towards the end of the novel, he does seem to have a moment of clarity, saying “In a fit of enthusiastic madness I created a rational creature, and was bound towards him, to assure, as far as was in my power, his happiness and well-being. This was my duty.”, but it doesn’t seem to last long.

There is a lot in Frankenstein I feel like I need to re-read, that there are thoughts on friendship and responsibility and the general need to be good to each other.  At some point, I will do that.  In the meantime, though, I am just happy to enjoy it for what I had hoped it would be – a good horror story!

Emma

(Revisiting) The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

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I first read The Wasp Factory back in 1984/5, not long after it was released. I was 15 at the time and this wasn’t my usual reading fare so I’m not sure what made me choose it but choose it I did, starting a life long liking of Iain Banks as an author. Over the years, I have read most of his books but never re-read any, including The Wasp Factory. This, despite the fact that some parts of the book (I now know for certain) have stayed with me a long time.

“Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different reasons than I’d disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim. That’s my score to date. I haven’t killed anybody for years, and don’t intend to ever again. It was just a stage I was going through.”

It is possibly because I have such clear memories of it that I have never revisited it.  Picking it up at the library recently, I did wonder if it was a good idea. What if I didn’t like it? What if it was horribly dated? What if it was mediocre at best? As it was, none of these were the case and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief at the end. An end which, no matter how hard I tried I could not bring to mind. I was glad I couldn’t because it is a great twist at the end of a rather dark story and means there is a little, just a little, potential light at the end of the tunnel for the main character Frank.

Frank is the narrator of The Wasp Factory, which is told in the first person. He lives on a semi-island somewhere off the Scottish coast near Inverness. His life is anything but ordinary. His dad decided not to register him when he was born (he was, Frank tells us, a hippy) and so he has never been to school, has no real friends. and spends his days patrolling his island, building and blowing up dams and killing animals for what are best described as totems. The rituals by which he lives his life really drew me in.

“All our lives are symbols. Everything we do is part of a pattern we have at least some say in. The strong make their own patterns and influence other people’s, the weak have their courses mapped out for them. The weak and the unlucky, and the stupid.”

He seems to have no understanding of people or the real world and no empathy for anyone other than his brother, Eric. Eric’s escape from a mental hospital opens The Wasp Factory and is the catalyst for Frank and his father’s lives unravelling as he slowly makes his way across Scotland to the island. To me, though, this was secondary to what was going on inside Frank’s mind, all of which I was privy to. And what was going on wasn’t pretty. Or normal. This really is the mind of what I guess could be described as a potential psychopath, a serial killer in the making (he’s already killed three children if he’s to be believed).

“I killed little Esmerelda because I felt I owed it to myself and to the world in general. I had, after all, accounted for two male children and thus done womankind something of a statistical favour. If I really had the courage of my convictions, I reasoned, I ought to redress the balance at least slightly. My cousin was simply the easiest and most obvious target.”

I remember how violent this book had seemed when I first read it but, a sign of the times maybe, it now seems quite tame on the murder front. Though, if anything the deaths are cleverer than a lot I now find in crime books. Frank may be a killer, but he’s smart. He’s also dark and unsettling, as is the book. There is a calmness and clarity to the way Frank describes his actions that make this story feel real.

This wasn’t a comfortable read then and it isn’t now. The fact that it still had the power to make me feel uncomfortable is a testament I think to the way Iain Banks writes and just how good the book is. So glad I revisited it. Well worth picking up if you haven’t already.

Emma

The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah

Title: The Orphan Choir
Author: Sophie Hannah
Genre: Horror (Ghost Story)
Source: Library
Rating: 3 out of 5

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Louise is tired. Her neighbour, nicked named Mr. Fahrenheit because of his love of Queen, keeps her up pretty much very weekend with his loud music and, when she complains, starts playing longer and louder just to annoy her. Just when she thinks it can’t get any worse, he turns from pop music to choral. This is especially hurtful as Louise is struggling with the fact that her seven year old son Joseph is living away from home as a Boarder in order to be part of a famous school choir. She never wanted him to go but was talked into it by her husband and hearing a choir sing every night is more than she can bear. She becomes convinced buying a second home in a rural gated community is the solution and, for a while, she seems to be right. Until she begins to hear the choir again and realises that, no matter how vindictive he is, Mr. Fahrenheit couldn’t have followed her there.

This is where, for me, the story should have got really spooky, if not scary. But it didn’t. It just got silly. I was turning the pages quickly, but only to get to the end. Which is a shame as the story started really well. I thought Sophie Hannah did a really good job of setting up Louise as someone who may be hearing ghosts OR going slightly off the deep-end. She wasn’t the most sympathetic character but then she was slightly crazed so it was ok. The response of her husband though, which was unsympathetic to say the least, and the flatness of the other characters around her (none felt fully formed to me) just meant I was left feeling flat too. The nail in the coffin was the twist at the end, which was more of a leap and felt wrong (sorry I can’t think of a better description).

My rating of 3 out of 5 is for the beginning. The ending means I couldn’t go higher. I think the fact that I’ve enjoyed Sophie Hannah’s other books added to my disappointment. As this was a novella, I wonder if it would have been better as a full length novel with time to really develop the characters and the story. In it’s shortened version it didn’t work for me. Looking at goodreads, which gives it very mixed reviews, it looks like it didn’t work for a lot of other people either. Have you read it? What did you think?

Emma x