“Gwendy’s Button Box”

Title: Gwendy’s Button Box
Authors: Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

 

If you had the power to destroy something, would you do it?

If no-one ever found out it was you, would you be able to resist pressing that button?

If someone had a box with unimaginable power, what should be done with it?

If you found out, would you tell anyone?

 

Gwendy’s Button Box is the first book I’ve read by Stephen King, an author I have been meaning to get into for years. I imagine that this short novella would serve as a nice introduction to Stephen King, compared to some of his much longer works. Gwendy’s Button Box is effectively a fable about power and control. With eerie overtones and an interesting concept, it was a quick read that packed a punch.

The story is set in the fictional town of Castle Rock in Maine. A few of King’s novels are set in Castle Rock and I find it interesting that this short story has links with some of his other works, despite the characters and events not necessarily crossing over. I find the fact that so many of his stories are linked in this way fascinating and these towns – the most famous being Derry, Castle Rock and Jerusalem’s Lot – almost seem to act as alternate/fantasy worlds in and of themselves.

But back to the story. Stephen King is perhaps most famous for horror writing and whilst this novel doesn’t necessarily contain any physical monsters, it is still a frightening tale because of its implications. A potential for destruction that is always tucked away but omnipresent. In a theme similar to several other works (think Jekyll and Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Grey, Lord of the Flies) this novel seems to explore the darker side of human nature and uses this as the source of horror. The monstrous element of this story is the hint of the brutality of human nature: human beings’ capacity for a hidden evil streak.

The novella is co-written with Richard Chizmar, an anthology editor and short story writer. Between both King and Chizmar, they have managed to create a short but eerie tale about the implications and consequences of humanity’s quest for power and also the unpredictability of human emotion and humanity’s capacity for making mistakes. Similar to Pandora’s Box, temptation takes the lead and we are left with several “what ifs” as the story reaches its bloody conclusion.

P.S. My music choice for this week is Burnt Norton (Interlude) by Lana Del Rey. This song is only short but I love it – the lyrics are based of a poem by T. S. Eliot. Hope you love it as much as I do!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Alberto’s Lost Birthday BOOK REVIEW

Book: Alberto’s Lost Birthday
Author: Diana Rosie

 

This was an uplifting read, detailing the relationship between a young boy called Tino and his grandfather Alberto. Jumping between the settings of Civil War-era Spain and the present day, the novel manages to remain upbeat and positive in spite of some quite horrific scenes.

 

Alberto is an orphan and his grandson his horrified to realise that he has never had a birthday because he doesn’t know when he was born. This sets a quest in Tino’s mind to discover Alberto’s ‘lost’ birthday. The quest coincides with a difficult period of the family’s life and travelling across the country to find the birthday provides a welcome relief from Tino and Alberto’s difficult home situation.

 

Travelling across the Spanish countryside, the narrative switches between Tino and Alberto’s journey and memories of the past. Chapter by chapter, Rosie switches the narrative (and often the narrator) so that eventually a story builds up, where the past and present weave together to form a heartwarming, if bittersweet resolution.

 

I found Rosie’s writing to be both engaging and accessible and I found the concept of the novel incredibly fascinating. With a cast of loveable (and a few not-so-loveable characters) the story fits together beautifully. Touching on the themes of power, mortality, religion, history, conflict, memories and family, the novel is able to cover a great deal of ground in an accessible and enjoyable way. On the whole, it was a novel I enjoyed a great deal!

 

P.S. My song choice for this week is Paloma Faith’s new track, Crybaby. I think it’s got a great message & I also like the video. I feel it’s pretty dystopian and has some Handmaid’s Tale vibes. Enjoy 🙂

“A Posion Apple” BOOK REVIEW

TITLE: A Poison Apple
AUTHOR: Michel Laub

 

This was only a short book and acted as a series of short snippets of a life that has not been well lived. There are some pretty heavy meditations on life and loss and effectively detail how the narrator has struggled to get over the relationship with his first girlfriend, Valeria. This reflective novel shows how intense and passionate the emotions of young people can be and how those memories can take hold as we grow older.

Suicide is a common theme within the novel and the narrator seems borderline-obsessed with the suicide of Kurt Cobain in 1994. The young couple were both massive fans of Nirvana and like with the ending of his relationship, this seems to have stuck with him in his older age. The narrative jumps around quite a lot, which I guess is indicative of the way thoughts and memories work. He is constantly switching thoughts and presents memories slightly out of order, leaving the novel feeling a little disjointed. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but I can appreciate how it could disturb the reading experience.

Despite its jumpy nature, a story did eventually build up over the course of the novel. Similar to other Latin American novels I’ve read (The Tunnel by Sabato, Son of Man by Roa Bastos as two examples) the novel is quite dark, melancholy and meditative. The novel is mainly set in Laub’s home town of Porto Alegre and I always enjoy reading novels that are set in unfamiliar places to me, but feel authentic.

On the whole I did enjoy the novel, despite its slightly disjointed narrative approach. It was a quick read and the small chapters were easily digestible and made the narrative flow, even if the story didn’t fit chapter-to-chapter.

P.S. My music choice for this post is “How You Feeling?” by Superfruit from their new album Future Friends – I absolutely love it!

 

Review of “Mister Creecher” by Chris Priestley

I borrowed “Mister Creecher” from the library. I’d previously enjoyed Priestley’s Tales of Terror series of books, so decided to give this one a go. It incorporated a lot of classical literary references (mainly from Frankenstein and Oliver Twist) but you didn’t need to get these references to enjoy the book. Being aware of these references just added a layer to the story.

The book was essentially about the forming relationship between street urchin and a ‘monster’. The friendship begins in dubious circumstances but grows into a strong friendship that has to face a lot of tests along the way. Themes of power and control, as well as trust and loyalty underpin much of the story, as we see the extent that men and ‘monsters’ will go to obtain love and power.

One of my favourite aspects of the novel was the light and shade in the main two characters. Billy, the boy, was by not a fully good character, but was not fully evil either. He was a very human character, with very human flaws. It was interesting to compare this to Creecher (the ‘monster’) and draws the age old question of what actually makes a monster monstrous? Priestley’s novel suggests that it is impossible to say, as there is light and dark in everyone. Creecher makes this point at various parts of the story.

All in all, the novel was an interesting take on two classic literary characters, both before and after their original stories. You did not need to know these references though, as the story was strong, independent of its sources. It’s a novel exploring the lighter and darker sides of humanity and the backdrop of pre-Victorian London/England fits the story just right. A well-crafted interesting read, the characters feel very human and there is a decidedly unpleasant twist towards the end.

P.S. My music choice for this post is Lana Del Rey’s new song with The Weeknd – ‘Lust for Life’. It’s the title song of her upcoming album and I’m really excited for it! Enjoy 🙂

Review of “Butter” by Erin Jade Lange

I’ve recently read a number of YA books and after my brother recommended it, I decided to read “Butter”. I found the concept quite interesting but felt like it could easily become very clichéd. However, I felt that it really worked and was gripped by the story. Lange’s writing style was easily accessible and I read the whole thing in just 2 days!

Essentially, the book is about an extremely overweight schoolboy who decides that he has had enough of dealing with his weight issues. However, a disturbing twist sees him making the decision to eat himself to an early grave, as opposed to trying to lose weight. The book deals with a number of themes, including: relationships with food, body image, bullying and the differences between online and real-life personas.

I thought that the decision to make the main character male was a refreshing choice and it was an interesting take on the theme of weight issues. The plot went a number of different ways and you were never 100% sure what the main character, Butter, was going to do next. For the most part, he was a relatable character and the issues he was dealing with (mainly how he is perceived by his peers) are accessible to everyone, even if you aren’t excessively overweight.

I also really liked the inclusion of online personas and found it interesting the ways in which Butter hid behind his screen. It was also an interesting exploration of how the real world differs so much from the digital world and again reinforces how easy it is to be deceived online.

On the whole I really enjoyed this book. It’s probably not for everyone but I thought it was an accessible and interesting read. It presents very serious issues with a weirdly comic slant and I found the character of Butter to be mostly likeable and I was rooting for him throughout the book.

 

 

PS. My song choice for this post is another one from my birthday albums. It’s a track called ‘Arrow’ by Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. I like the effects in the song & I think it’s a hidden jam of his debut album. Hope you enjoy it too! 🙂

 

Ally Condie’s “Matched” series

I recently finished a YA series written by Ally Condie. I found out about the series when putting together a teen book display called “Teens in Peril” at work. I wanted to create a display of “books like The Hunger Games” and after exhausting the library’s stock of Hunger Games, Divergent and Maze Runner books, I had to widen my scope a little bit. I found a number of titles online and ordered copies into the library to create the display. (I was going to post a photo of it, but couldn’t find the photo I’d thought I’d saved – first world problems!!)

I found the first book in this series interesting and decided to give it ago after the display was finished. As it turns out, I really enjoyed the series. It’s a dystopian trilogy that focuses on the workings of the “society” – a government force that controls all aspects of its citizens’ lives. The controls that are placed on the inhabitants of the society are somewhat reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984. All forms of creativity and choice have been removed and every aspect of your life, from birth to death, is carefully detailed and controlled by the higher forces. The society ultimately ensures a safe and secure life, but at the cost of your individual freedoms. The scenarios and ironically the choices that are made by the citizens do seem plausible and I think this is one of the things that make dystopian novels so disturbing. I found this with The Hunger Games as well, as the concepts are somewhat farfetched but simultaneously not a million miles away from our own reality.

As someone who has volunteered in archives, I found the inclusion of “archivists” quite clever. These somewhat mysterious beings run the society’s underground, allowing trades & bargains for important historical items. It shows the power of records and artefacts and the lengths that people are prepared to go to get what they need. I also found the conception of Cassia’s ‘gallery’ to be really important, despite only playing a small part in the actual plot of the series. I thought it was important because it shows how people can still be creative and individual in incredibly limited and uncreative surroundings. Poetry also plays a crucial role, as it is the initial subversion of societal regulations that we see in the text. I also found it quite interesting that Condie blurred the lines between society and rising. This reminds us how little we can really trust our governments and ruling forces, as different groups can often be exactly the same thing, just dressed up slightly differently.

My one personal critique of the series was that so much time was expended on the complex love triangle between the three title characters. I understand that this was an important, and being brutally honest, a pivotal plot point. However, I would have liked to have learned a little bit more about the society and to have some other plot points explored in more detail. I wish the focus of the main characters wasn’t always so romantically driven, although this is just personal preference and I understand the importance of untangling this particular point of the series. For other readers who, like me, aren’t massively keen on romance, I still think the books are worth reading, as the concepts, ideas and characters in the series are great. Just be prepared for romance being an important plot point!

On the whole, I found the series really enjoyable and thought that the idea behind the novel was pretty creative and clever. It raises a lot of questions about choice and control and the following two novels, Crossed and Reached conclude the story well.

Also apologies for no photos. The ones I took were all really poor quality and the books are now back with the library and checked out to someone else! So, hope the book jackets are alright!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. My song for this post is Ariana Grande & Leon Thomas’ cover of Rihanna & Drake’s Take Care. Rediscovered this earlier in the week and I’d forgotten how much I love it!

‘The Girl On The Train’ by Paula Hawkins

Book Profile:

Title: The Girl On The Traingott

Author: Paula Hawkins

Original Publication: January 2015

Publisher: Transworld Publishers

Pages: 409

Opening Line: “She’s buried beneath a silver birch tree, down towards the old train tracks, her grave marked with a cairn.”

Closing Line: “And I have to get up early tomorrow morning, to catch the train.”

 

My thoughts:

Hype surrounding certain titles is nothing new, and ‘The Girl on the Train’ was undoubtedly one of those hyped titles that so many people were talking about. After working in a library for the past year or so, I can say that with confidence as I think about the massive queue there was for this title. It was a book I’d heard quite a lot about, without actually really knowing what it was about but thought I would give it a go anyway.

After receiving it as a present on my last birthday, I can say that I actually did enjoy the novel. It did have a bit of a slow start and took awhile to get into it. However, it hit a point in the middle where I just had to know what happened next – one of my favourite qualities in a book! I think it certainly earns its place as a page turner and I read the second half of the book much quicker than the first.

The book features an unreliable narrator, which can be incredibly disconcerting as a reader but can also make things very interesting, as you are not 100% about what’s going on and I found myself gravitating towards different characters throughout the novel. My opinion of the protagonist Rachel changed several times over the course of the novel but on the whole I did feel quite a bit of sympathy for her. Frustration and exasperation as well, but ultimately I felt very sorry for her. I can see how others might not like her as a character, but I had a soft spot for her and wanted things to go her way.

I did twig about roughly what was going to happen, or rather what had happened, just before the end of the book, but it did keep me guessing up until the final couple of chapters. It reminded me a little bit of ‘Before I Go to Sleep’ by SJ Watson as I wasn’t really sure what to believe or who to trust, which ultimately makes for an interesting read.

On the whole, I did really enjoy the novel as it was an enjoyable and gripping read with an interesting protagonist. I think hyped books often fail to live up to people’s expectations, but I would recommend giving this one a go. You may not think much of it, but you could surprise yourself as I found it a pretty decent read. I’ve been told quite bad things about the movie adaptation. I’m not 100% how it would translate to the screen as a lot of the book’s positive qualities stem from what’s going on inside Rachel’s head, but I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve actually seen it!

 

Some Questions To Think About After Reading The Book:

  1. Do you think that ‘hype’ around novels like this affect your reading of the book?
  2. What did you make of the main characters in this book?
  3. How did you find the pacing of the novel?
  4. Did you feel any sympathy with Rachel?
  5. Would the novel change your perception of those who are considered strange, odd or dangerous by society?

 

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For the record, I am actually on a train in this photo, on my way to work (note the purple shirt)! 😉

 

P.S. Here’s my music choice for this post: Perfect Illusion by Lady Gaga! Absolutely love this song – enjoy! 🙂