Monday, 26 November 2018

The Coven Murders

Hi everyone, it's Heather posting today with a review on the paranormal crime book The Coven Murders. Many thanks to the author for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Information

Author: Brian O'Hare
Published: February 2018
Publisher: Crimson Cloak Publishing
Length: 385 pages

Brief Description (from Amazon)

The Coven Murders opens with a horrifying account of a ritual Black Mass with a human sacrifice in an abandoned church. Twenty-one years later, near an old ruined church in an area of outstanding natural beauty, Chief Inspector Sheehan and his team discover the skeleton of a young woman. But what seems initially to be a straightforward case, brings the team into conflict with a powerful Satanist who has plans to offer up to Satan another human sacrifice on the evening of the great Illuminati feast of Lughnasa. Several murders occur, baffling the Inspector until he makes a connection between the modern murders and the twenty-one year old skeleton. The team’s pursuit of the murderer, and their determination to protect a young woman who is targeted by the coven, lead to a horrific climax in a hellish underground crypt where Sheehan and his team, supported by an exorcist and a bishop, attempt to do battle with the coven and a powerful demon of Baphomet, jeopardising not only their lives, but risking the wrath of Satan upon their immortal souls.


It’s fairly unusual for us to be approached with books that merge together the paranormal and crime thriller genres so I was pleased when O’Hare contacted me with this one. The novel is set in Northern Ireland where the police force is bombarded with both the discovery of a skeleton and a series of murders. With the potential linking of the two cases and the strange whiff of supernatural in the air, Chief Inspector Sheehan and his team work hard to try and find the culprit before anyone else is murdered. I haven’t read the rest of this series but as a standalone book it works very well and isn’t at all confusing. I am very proud to announce that I guessed the identity of the murderer pretty early on (I hereby expect to be addressed as Sherlock Holmes… or Chief Inspector Sheehan, a commendable detective indeed) possibly because I read too much crime fiction. This didn’t reduce my enjoyment though, on the contrary, I found this a gripping read that gave me a lot of relief to an otherwise stressful weekend spent planning and writing essays.

The story is set in Northern Ireland, somewhere I must confess I’ve always wanted to go. There is some interesting history to the Protestant-Catholic conflicts still prominent over there included in the story. The imagery, particularly during the festival scene, is fantastic. If I’m being really pernickety then are moments when the writing style feels a little repetitive, for instance, the car-tailing scenes are quite similar and at the start, the word ‘grinned’ is overused. Overall the dialogue is very good, however, it does sometimes border on stereotypical with the upper-class characters being veeery posh and the dodgier guys really showing it! Aside from this, I can’t flaw O’Hare at all, I found the book engaging and exciting.

The police and forensics team itself are a real treat – such vibrant and comedic characters! Throughout reading this they delighted me, both from their amusing lines and O’Hare’s careful consideration on each of their backgrounds. It can never be emphasised enough just how valuable a sub-plot is to adding new dimensions to characters and achieving that all-important sense of verisimilitude. Most of all, I have to praise the O’Hare for writing McNeill’s speech impediment in a professional manner. There is a very small quantity, both in film and literature, of characters who have long-term stammers. Even when this is represented, 95% of the time the writer only includes it to provide a bullying storyline or to give the character an innocent, anxious or quiet persona, often as an act (like Quirrell in the Harry Potter series and Tina in Glee). As you can tell from my ranting, it’s one of my pet peeves so congratulations O’Hare on being part of the minority that does not do that! I also found Andrew a complete and utter sweetheart and hope he finds some happiness in the next book.

Overall I found this a stimulating read with wonderfully written characters. The paranormal elements weren’t too cliched and slotted into the general rhythm of the novel nicely. I’ll be back next month with another review, see you then! 

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Half-Heartedly

Hey there, it's Lydia here! This is a poem I wrote last week. I'm going to be posting my poetry on our blog more often, so keep checking our site! 


I don’t know its Location,
it should be on the left 
below my breast
in that general station.
Beneath cages of solid white
and fillings of pink 
wrapped in a cocoon-like state
where blue or maybe red pours, 
restlessly chasing each strip 
from finger to feet. 
But I cannot find its location. 

The doctor said all is well 
that aorta is functioning 
and left atrium is all in place, 
that your heart beats bebum-bebum
pushing golden life in regular trace. 
You’re pretty and young – 
I don’t understand 
How can you not find its Location? 

Ah, I think I remember now
as light poured onto my form
seen through a crack all broken and torn. 
A Greenhouse 
shimmering impenetrable grace
filled with sunflowers wet with dew
and bees floating from each face. 
There are splinters
shards all battered and blue
some mended some not 
crying when the cold wind blew. 

I felt that
fingers grazing that bloody wall
the bees stop, 
the sunflowers shudder, die and drop
and a stage comes into view.
a candle 
flickering 
flickering 
gone
I cannot find its Location 

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Literary Book Gifts

Hi everyone! It's Lydia here! My monthly blog post went a bit downhill for the end of October, however I'm here now and ready to discuss a website with you all! This is a slightly different from the reviews I usually write, as they're mostly fashioned around books. Yet, this website is special because it's where all of us book nerds go to and find quotes and book art around our favourite novels. Today I'll be reviewing https://literarybookgifts.com

When first viewing the website I was greeted with a classic white and professional background, which instantly drew my attention to the colour of the products on the home page. The options of what to select were 'Women's Book T-Shirts', 'Book Tote Bags', 'Men's Book T-Shirts' and 'Gifts for Book Lovers', which turn a darker shade of grey when selected. Then underneath this, there was a lovely selection of classic literary fiction gifts ranging from Frankenstein t-shirts to Emily Dickinson tote bags.

Clicking onto the women's t-shirt section, there's a refreshing display of different clothing laid side-by-side presenting a good range of size selection from XS - 3XL. Each t-shirt has a diverse selection of colours that you don't see on most websites. Clicking specifically on the Dracula t-shirt, I initially liked the colour combination of red and black, but the choice of red and white also gave an interesting contrast. I even found some novels that I've never heard of before, for example, 'The Call of the Wild' and 'In Search of Lost Time'.

Moving onto the tote bags, each one is beautifully designed and the material looks strong and durable. I personally prefer the tote bags as the large font and design is pleasing to the eye, and like the t-shirts there is a wide selection of fiction. However, if you want a more simplistic design that isn't based around a book, there are some intriguing style bags with headphone sets and typewriters. What really surprised me was there were also some products that displayed famous science essays and even some philosophers!

Now for my top five favourite products: 1. Dracula t-shirt, 2. Jane Eyre t-shirt, 3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde tote bag,  4. Typewriter tote bag, 5. Emily Dickinson tote bag.

Overall, I think this website is fantastic and really cute! So I encourage all our readers to go and check it out! Here is the link again: https://literarybookgifts.com

P.S. The owner of this lovely website has given our team a 20% discount code ECCENTRICTRILOGY20, this includes anything on the website, no minimum and does not expire.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Dracul

Happy Halloween everyone! It’s Heather again - I don’t normally post twice in one month but given that this novel deals with vampires, cockroaches and all that lovely stuff I thought it made more sense to post today. Many thanks to the authors for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Information

Author: Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker
Published: October 2018
Publisher: Bantam Press
Length: 512 pages

Brief Description (from Amazon)

It is 1868, and a 22-year-old Bram Stoker has locked himself inside an abbey's tower to face off against a vile and ungodly beast. He is armed with mirrors and crucifixes and holy water and a gun - and is kept company by a bottle of plum brandy. His fervent prayer is that he will survive this one night - a night that will prove to be the longest of his life. Desperate to leave a record of what he has witnessed, the young man scribbles out the events that brought him to this point - and tells an extraordinary tale of childhood illness, a mysterious nanny, and stories once thought to be fables now proven true.
A riveting, heart-stoppingly scary novel of Gothic suspense, Dracul reveals not only the true origins of Dracula himself, but also of his creator, Bram Stoker . . . and of the elusive, enigmatic woman who connects them.
Review

Wow. I absolutely loved this novel. When I heard that J.D. Barker and Dacre Stoker (Bram Stoker’s great grand-nephew) were collaborating to write a prequel to Dracula I was absolutely delighted. I’m still recovering from the epic ending of Barker’s Fourth Killer Monkey – who would have guessed that that guy was the murderer?! – so knew they would inject the perfect amount of suspense and unpredictable plot twists. And, like the typical English Literature student I am, I adore Dracula. Ironically, I’ve just written an essay on it so if anyone asks then getting my excuse for staying up all night finishing Dracul is that I’m a dedicated student who wanted to do some further reading. Jokes aside I genuinely did find this a very informative read. The novel blends fiction and fact together so many of the details about Bram were accurate, for instance, it's true that he spent a lot of his childhood bedridden from an unknown illness. 

It’s very easy for writers to fall into the trap of thinking ‘vampire = inhumane monster = evil’ and I was really impressed that Barker and Stoker avoided this. Nanny Ellen’s morally ambiguous traits made her character much more interesting to read about. The same thing goes for any type of character really, whilst it’s fine to have the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ side, the crossover characters add another dimension to a novel. There’s a pretty big split in the Harry Potter fandom between the people who think Snape is a hero and those who believe he’s detestable (I’m on side detestable, there’s no excuse for bullying Neville). Do we have this argument about Voldemort or Bellatrix? Nope. Of course, it’s fantastic to have that absolutely horrible villain, in this case Dracul, and the very likable Bram and Matilda, throwing Nanny Ellen into the mix makes everything more sinister as the reader doesn’t know who to trust. Thornley, whilst definitely on team good, had some phenomenal character development as well as he went from a somewhat distant and suspicious sibling to someone fully committed to hunting down Dracul. 

As a prequel, the novel definitely succeeds in answering some of the more confusing parts of Dracula. The abilities of the vampire, for instance, are addressed with confidence so the reader can fully understand exactly what and how vampires operate. I liked how Stoker and Barker mimicked Dracula’s creative epistolary form in their prequel with the diary entries, though I felt this could have been developed better. In Dracula there is definite acknowledgement of the form with Mina notably compiling all their accounts together and the highly amusing little notes (‘Mem., get recipe for Mina’, ‘this diary seems horribly like the beginning of the “Arabian Nights”’). There’s a bit of this in Dracul but I feel like it could have been used more. Nonetheless, the writing style itself is excellent, packed full of beautifully worded imagery and quirky lines of dialogue. 

Is Dracul actually scary? Well I decided to read this while home-alone and I thought that the mysterious eerie noises coming from our fridge and the missing television remote meant our house was haunted. I don’t know why I thought any monster would steal a television remote and not the TV itself but I think this pretty much reflects how terrified I was. The funny thing is that there’s not much actual gore in the novel. It’s not as though every page is filled with the torments of a poor soul being slaughtered in vivid and disturbing manner. In a way I think this is what frightened me. This coupled with the factual details about Bram Stoker means the realism is heightened massively. The story is convincing yet still undeniably spooky and gripping.

Get nice and comfortable in your coffin because I found myself completely engrossed in this riveting read. Needless to say, I really recommend picking up a copy of Dracul (it’s Halloween, treat yourselves!), particularly if you’re a fan of Dracula.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Love and Kisses from My Padded Cell: Clinical Tale of Addiction

Hello, it’s Heather here! TW: the book I'm reviewing today is focused on clinical addiction and does discuss abuse, alcoholism, eating disorders, self-harm, drugs and other dark topics. Many thanks Dr. Katz for sending me a free copy of her book in exchange for an honest review.

Information

Author: Dr. Ellie Katz
Published: July 2017
Publisher: Self-Published, available on Amazon
Length: 230 pages

Brief Description (from Amazon)

Destruction By One’s Own Hand. What's the difference between an addiction and a habit? What's the difference between a harmless vice and a source of danger? Mishaps and Failures And Mind Boggling Compulsions.

Dr. Ellie Katz recounts the struggles of ten men and women who fell victim to the irresistible draw of using. There is no lack of tragedy, pathos or remorse, but there is also a hint of comedy as we explore the lives of people who have run counter to their true essences and behaved like genuine jackasses.​These stories are shocking, but they are also important. They give a first-person look into the mindset that can drive someone to sacrifice​ their​ good name, fortune, family, and more. Those who tell their stories here do so in the hope that others will be inspired to seek, and perhaps even find, a better way. The reader follows each subject from an early age, so they can see exactly when and why their compulsions began. These addictions frequently seem to be a coping method for individuals stuck in abusive and troubled households or stress either in the workplace or home.


Review

I've read my fair share of novels that either focus on addiction or contain a character who is suffering from one and have to admit that they've been... varied in success, so naturally I was very excited to read some life-stories about real people who have a clinical addiction. These stories are harrowing, motivational and, for me at least, a poignant reminder to be grateful. The majority of the subjects come from troubled homes with guardians or friends who are often addicts themselves, many of the subjects experience emotional and physical abuse and go through the most horrible ordeals. It's fascinating and tragic to understand exactly why and when their compulsions begin. I'm sure everyone has a few moments in their childhood that they'd rather forget but rarely to these extremes.

My primary concern when reading memoirs is that the subject’s story may be sugar-coated with too much sympathy, either by the subject themselves during the interview process or by the writer. I am pleased to report that this is not the case for Katz, who managed to retain the voice of each subject whilst subtly slotting her own questions and comments, which guides the reader towards their own conclusion, allowing them to be shocked and disturbed but also understand the torment of addiction. This provides a considerate and honest reflection of each individual studied. I feel like media often glorifies addiction, frequently delighting in the idea of an alcoholic or drug addict being ‘cured’ by the support of a truly miraculous love interest, devoted friend or family member. As Katz states, ‘destruction by one’s own hand is far less romantic up close’ and the reality of the matter is that many addicts suffer alone, afraid to show their vulnerabilities, particularly to those they love, and isolating themselves in the process. It was refreshing to read material on addiction and psychiatric illness covered in such a sincere and open way.

Another highlight is that Katz very rarely shoulders blame on one person, instead of recognising that everyone makes mistakes and everyone experiences pain in their past. Most of the more dislikeable people involved in the lives of the subjects notably were addicts themselves, like Rosie’s alcoholic father, and frequently the subjects would say or do things to their family and friends that probably continued this chain. Katz says pretty early on that ‘the addict is the hero and the addiction is the villain; or maybe they both are the villain’ and this struck me as a really interesting point. Psychiatric illness is selfish and cruel, not only to the addict but also to the people who look after and care for them. Pablo’s girlfriend is almost unbelievably forgiving when he pops to the shops to get some cigarettes and doesn’t return for six months! 

The title did initially baffle me since very little of the book is focused on the ‘padded cell’ of rehab itself. On the contrary, Katz seemed to avoid it, instead of writing about everything that fostered their addiction and how they handled it until rehabilitation, their relapses after and current state. For me I did find this a drawback as the reader watches each subject suffer from addiction and anticipates how rehabilitation will help them, only to not be divulged that information. Of course, I completely understand why Katz chose not to disclose what happens at rehabilitation (it’d make each section far longer, there are sometimes confidentiality laws in certain clinics, most treatments take a tedious amount of trial and error to work) but I have to confess that I was a little let down by this aspect.

The book is satisfying in how it's organised, with clearly marked sections, excellent structure and impeccable grammar. The balance between compassion and frank wit in writing style is absolutely spot on, making this a compelling read. The introduction and conclusion are brilliant, noting both the symptoms of addiction and remarking that there is no shame in asking for help. Recovering from addiction is challenging and arguably the process of recovery never ends, but the battle gets far easier to fight with the appropriate treatment and support. Even if the reader cannot see what happens at rehab to help each subject recover, the knowledge that these incredible people have been through so much and can get better is really uplifting.

Addiction is difficult and, again, I want to emphasise the bravery of going to rehab or even just telling a friend. Many of Katz’s subjects were at their lowest when they kept their addiction to themselves - don’t be afraid to reach out to a loved one and tell them what’s going on! I’ll be back soon to write on J.D. Barker and Dacre Stoker’s novel Dracul.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Elegies by Douglas Dunn

Hello, Helen here! Slightly late this week due to illness and a stampede of assignments charging my way, for which I apologise. Here is my review for a book of poetry that I read some years ago but will forever and always be my absolute favourite.





Book: Elegies

Author: Douglas Dunn






Written after the death of his wife from cancer, Douglas Dunn’s Elegies are a collection of poems about grief, love, and the struggle to keep going after profound loss. Perhaps the first thing I should say about this wonderful, wonderful book, is that it is the first – and only at the date of writing – set of poems that have made me cry. Dunn’s grief is smeared across every page for the world to see, in a way that is so raw and ragged that it takes your breath away.

One of the things I found most heart-wrenching was the way Dunn interspersed the grief of the present with memories of their life before her diagnosis, when he and his wife were happy and in love without the shadow of death hanging over them. I have been told that one of the best ways to write tragedy is to give the reader something happy to hold onto – the hope that something good will happen and change the ending and let us close the book with a smile on our faces. Whether Dunn’s inclusion of these brief, shining moments of joy were intended to cause this effect is perhaps unclear, but nonetheless, they certainly help you understand exactly what Dunn has lost, and how helpless he felt watching his wife’s health slowly decline, knowing there was nothing he could do to stop it.

The most famous poem from Elegies is probably The Kaleidoscope, which is widely available on a manner of poetry websites, often accompanied by a recording of it being read aloud. Written in sonnet form, The Kaleidoscope details Dunn’s loss of direction after his wife’s death. He describes, in aching detail, how he still half expects his wife to be in their house, and how he can almost see her watching him, if only he’d turn around. It’s probably one of my favourites from this collection, along with Birch Room.

I will say, however, that this isn’t really a book to pick up lightly. It deals with a lot of sensitive and emotional aspects of life and death and love, and even those who claim to be completely hard-hearted will probably finish reading this with a lump in their throat. It is likely that you might need some time to process the book after you have read it – I know I did! – so please bear that in mind.

Having said that, I would heartily recommend this to anyone and everyone who likes poetry, and to most people who don’t! It flows and captures you in way that some older poets might not, and I promise, you will never be bored when reading it.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

Hi everyone! It's Shani here today and this week I'm reviewing The Secret Agent (1907) by Joesph Conrad. I read this novel over the summer as it is on one of my university courses and I must admit that it is one of my favourite books that during my studies thus far.
The Secret Agent focuses on the character of Mr Verloc, otherwise known as Verloc, and the work he does for a foreign government - in particular the secret agency work he does for them. It is never quite clear what government Verloc is actually working, though there has been speculation that it could possibly be the French or Russian government. Whoever Verloc is working for certainly has a hatred for England and it's values. Verloc is instructed that he must make a statement to the English people or gather useful information otherwise he is out of the job. This forces Verloc, who is also a major anarchist and is happy to undertake whatever task the government he works for asks, to take drastic action and has consequences which he could never have imagined.

For those who have not read this wonderful novel I will not spoil the plot for you, especially the most important part of the plot, however I will be talking specifically about Verloc and his wife, Winnie, and the novel as a whole. Winnie is an interesting character as she is Verloc's complete opposite, where Verloc is often cold and indifferent to pretty much every situation he finds himself in, Winnie is extremely compassionate... if anything at times she is too compassionate. Her maternal protectiveness over her brother Stevie, who is portrayed in the novel to have a form of autism (though at the time Conrad would not have been aware of that his character is autistic because there was no such diagnosis when the novel was written), is heartwarming but also strange. It seems that Winnie is reluctant to let her brother do just about anything on his own, with good reason at times, but she seems more of a mother to him than their actual mother is.

This odd relationship dynamic makes the novel end on a satisfying yet perplexing situation, and after having read the novel twice I still cannot determine how I feel. However, it seems that both Verloc and Winnie's biggest characteristics are ultimately their downfall. Verloc's cold and unaccountable personality cause an awful situation to arise, and Winnie's maternal instincts towards her brother bring everything to an end. In terms of studying human nature, Conrad really delves into the psyche of his characters and shows the reader that despite appearances people can be extremely deceiving. 

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this novel and if you're interested in conspiracy theories, a deep look into the human mind and at times it's odd workings, scapegoat plans, murder, and anarchism I would definitely recommend reading this!