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Book reviews Books Fiction

Hope Island by Tim Major review – claustrophobic, paranoid and exhilarating

We all know one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But the artwork for Tim Major’s Hope Island is arrestingly gorgeous and, I’m delighted to report, the story it contains is equally so.

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Book reviews Books Fiction

Distinguishing Features by Kealan Patrick Burke review – short is horrifically sweet

The saying “short and sweet” couldn’t be more appropriate for novelist Kealan Patrick Burke’s new story. Distinguishing Features packs not one but several delightfully gruesome shocks into its 32 pages, at the same time delivering a fully-formed and well-thought-out narrative to get our teeth into.

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Book reviews Books Fiction

A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill review – exploring the “escape” of the haunted house and the comfort of monsters

A Cosmology of Monsters takes pains to warn its readers up-front that “happy endings” and other narrative conventions don’t apply to real life. The novel swerves and ducks reader expectations throughout – sometimes in ways that dazzle, sometimes in ways that are profoundly frustrating. While the book’s headers are taken from Lovecraft, and his influence hovers over the work (including a beautifully-realised eldritch location, the City), Hamill wants to explore the way horror fiction, haunted houses and monsters intersect with family life. It’s a bold mission and creates a book which I suspect readers will either love or hate.

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Book reviews Books Fiction

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay review – a startlingly prescient & cinematic pandemic novel

Survivor Song was written before the coronavirus pandemic: this feels inconceivable. Within the first few pages, we’re plunged into an all-too-familiar scene from the confusion of lockdown. What does the government’s guidance even mean? Should we listen to everything we hear on Facebook about the virus? There’ll be several hours’ worth of queues at the grocery store, and our protagonist – Natalie – has already stress-eaten all the candy in the house. Tremblay’s novel places us in a nightmare vision of 2020, in which New England is caught up in a 28 Days Later-like “rage virus”, and we’re in the twitchy-curtained first few days of the outbreak.

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Book reviews Books Fiction

Isidora’s Pawn by Erik Hofstatter review – high-stakes horror and steamy encounters

I’m a huge fan of the short story. There’s something immensely satisfying about being able to settle with a book, knowing the story will be wrapped up within an hour or so. Of course, there is an art to it – the introduction, development and conclusion of a plot and ideas in a minuscule space – and I tip my hat to those who try, including Erik Hofstaffer in Isidora’s Pawn, a novelette spilling over with grand themes such as unrequited love and deceit.

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Book reviews Books Non-fiction

A Century of Weird Fiction, 1832-1937 by Jonathan Newell review – is disgust at the core of weird fiction?

So-called “genre” fiction has had, since its inception, an issue with defining itself. Even the word itself is vague, coming from the same root as the less-flattering description “generic”. It implies a mass of different types, clustered together haphazardly and cowering beneath the monolithic purity of the much more proper literary fiction.

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Book reviews Books Fiction

Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis review – A love letter to cult horror films with a truly irresistible setting

Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis comes beautifully packaged in a VHS-style slipcover with a faux rating/advisory (“nerve-shredding tension, nail-biting thrills”); the book itself is styled as a VHS cassette. Something of an odd choice for contemporary YA, where – notwithstanding the recent boom in 80s nostalgia – a large part of the target audience may never have played a VHS tape. But with its darkly satisfying tale of a controlling and obsessive horror auteur, a town stuck in its past as a 1920s film set, and the secrets of generational abuse, Harrow Lake is a compulsively readable treat for horror fans of all ages.

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Book reviews Books Fiction

Night Train by David Quantick review – a wild postmodern ride by a comic master

There are all kinds of phrases I want to use to review this book: relentless, unstoppable, outrageous. And I want to see them all under five stars on a billboard-sized movie poster because that is the kind of book this is. Incredibly enjoyable, the only caveat I can provide is that, perhaps like an action movie, while you are in the midst of it you are unable to step back and work out whether it is purely playing with your adrenaline and your heartstrings, or if it is reaching your mind too.

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Books Fiction

Overlook Abbey: Whispers of the Female Gothic in Stephen King’s The Shining

Stephen King’s The Shining is a modern gothic masterpiece, containing many of the core aspects which constitute gothic literature’s skeleton. The Overlook hotel is the monolithic, ruined castle riddled with malicious spirits; Jack Torrance succumbs to madness, ultimately becoming a doppelgänger of himself; monstrosity overtakes the mundane, particularly to Danny Torrance; Jack holds a quasi-religious reverence for historical items and locations, and also feels a sense of fallen society. While these attributes have been discussed at length, there is less discussion about its Female Gothic qualities.

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Book reviews Books Fiction

If It Bleeds by Stephen King review – a return to vintage King?

If It Bleeds is Stephen King’s most recent collection of the macabre, released earlier than originally planned this year in response to the desire to escape into new Stephen King fiction felt by many Constant Readers practising social distancing. Each of the four novellas within this collection – including “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone”, “The Life of Chuck“, the titular “If It Bleeds”, and “Rat” – feel like a return to vintage King, though each accomplishes this feat through very different means.