Misery by Stephen King (1987)

Posted: December 5, 2013 in Horror, Thriller

“I am in trouble here. This woman is not right”


Misery is the story of novelist Paul Sheldon, who nearly dies in a car crash and Annie Wilkes, the woman who saves his life.  Misery is also the name of a popular heroine in Sheldon’s Victorian romance novels.  Paul awakens from his coma to find himself crippled and under the care of Annie, a former nurse who has read all of his Misery novels and professes to be his number one fan.  As time passes by under Annie’s care, Paul begins to realise to his horror that his carer is in fact his captor and she is severely unstable.  Annie loses her temper when she reads Sheldon’s belligerent new novel about car theft.  She flies into a morbid rage when she finds that he has decided to kill off Misery, ending her romantic saga.  Eventually she forces him into writing a new novel to bring back her beloved Misery from the dead.  Paul co-operates with her, hoping that when he is recuperated enough he can formulate an escape plan.  But he soon learns the consequences of betraying his number one fan.

Although I have seen most of the Stephen King movie adaptations I must confess that Misery was the first of his novels I have actually read.  I’m glad I finally did because I have become an instant fan.  Don’t get me wrong, this book may require some work before you begin to enjoy it but the rewards come very quickly.  Paul’s fevered dreams of agony do not make for easy reading at the beginning of the book.  The chunks of Sheldon’s fictional manuscript for “Misery’s Return” were not exactly easy for me either but I’m glad King put them in there because it really helps with the realism of Paul’s plight.

Those of you who have watched the 1990 movie you will be familiar with the basic concept and the characters but I recommend you take the time to read this novel because it really takes you much deeper into the horror of this unnerving situation.  Sheldon’s abuse at the hands of Annie Wilkes takes on a much darker tone and I certainly found myself wondering if he was ever going to make it through to the end of the book!  Obviously a popular novelist like Stephen King requires no approval from me but if you have yet to read Misery it is worth picking up a copy either second hand or on Kindle.  After all, who knows?  You may even become his next number one fan…

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“Dramatic from start to finish”

Spontaneous Combustion

Spontaneous Combustion follows the traumatic struggle of James Cody, a firefighter whose daring attempt to be a hero costs him his job when things go horribly wrong.  Discredited and depressed he returns to his home town to recover but he has not finished paying for his reckless act of bravery yet.  When a vindictive killer begins targeting the people he cares for James finds himself not only fighting to clear his name but also fighting for his life.

This book is dramatic right from the start.  The opening scene is so tense you can almost feel the heat of the blazing inferno.  All the action scenes are reasonably well described throughout the story.  It is also obvious too that a fair amount of good solid research has been done by the author before writing this novella. I wouldn’t want to say the story is completely airtight but there are no gaping holes that defy the laws of physics, logic or legality that I have picked up on.

The characters are reasonably well rounded and understandable figures.  Cody himself is a sympathetic protagonist who you genuinely feel for.  He is a man who has tried to do good things and been punished unjustly.  The supporting characters are generally identifiable, not overly complex but easy to fit into the scenario and believable enough.  Cody’s nemesis is a masterly written villain that you will just love to hate, full of self-righteous fury and totally ruthless.

I am impressed with the comfortable writing style that keeps you flowing quickly throughout the novel.  There were unfortunately a few minor typos in the edition I read – an unfortunate but understandable by-product of publishing your own work on Kindle.

All in all I would not call Spontaneous Combustion a masterpiece but it is a good solid read and dramatic from start to finish.  The novella is certainly worth its meagre Kindle price and I’d like to buy more work by Larry LaVoie in the future.

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“Life On Mars Meets Alice In Wonderland”

The Picture House

Cover Art By Vanessa Morris

The Picture House is a children’s fantasy story about a young imaginative boy trapped in a coma and the struggle of his three friends to save him from both his condition and the embodiment of his nightmares. Over the course of the story the three brave friends explore the fantastical regions of a child’s imagination, meeting lost souls, angry gardeners, enslaved trees and a wily black cat.

Although it is a story aimed at children The Picture House certainly does not talk down to its readers. The vocabulary, although not too baffling, is beautifully descriptive and vivid. Younger readers may struggle with some of the text but only in a way that encourages further learning. The themes in the book do not pull punches either. There is a very real sense of loss for many characters in the story which is dealt with in a sincere and compassionate way. These themes are not morose or morbid but rather encourage hope and understanding.

The characters are sympathetic and fun to read about. They are not action heroes but rather ordinary people who go through their ordeal because they care about their friend. You could maybe question how the children adapt so readily to such a bedazzling environment. But hey, kids are tough and it would hardly be an exciting story if they spent half the book going to pieces.

I would recommend a story like this to an imaginative child, boy or girl, who may enjoy watching Tim Burton Films, Doctor Who or Harry Potter. It is not wholly educational but is fun to read and steers away from patronising young people. I may not normally be a fan of this sort of book (and I’m probably old enough to know better) but I enjoyed it for it’s ability to amuse and entertain my imagination.

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“Funny, cheeky, sexy and ridiculous…”

Accidental Demon Slayer

I stumbled across this book during a browse through the free section but in truth I would not have minded paying for it.  Unlike most freebies, this is not a novella but a full size novel with enough room for character development, plot twists and lots of humour.

Lizzie Brown is an ordinary modern woman, fresh into her thirties, teaching at a primary school.  Her well-to-do life is turned into a bizarre adventure when her long lost grandmother pulls up on a motorcycle and tells her she is destined to save the world from a powerful demon.  Guided by her grandmother’s coven of biker witches, protected by a shape-shifting griffin and supported by her talking Jack Russel, Lizzie must learn to use her formidable powers to overcome the forces of darkness.

Although the romantic side of the story may be directed more at a female audience there are enough action scenes, plot turns and funny jokes to entertain any reader.  I’d recommend this if you enjoyed shows like Buffy or Charmed but even if you didn’t there is enough to keep most horror-fantasy fans going.

While the word use is very colloquial and sometimes just a little clumsy it is fairly deliberate and generally suits the story.  Some parts of the character dialogue and development seemed a bit rushed too but not to a point that ruins the whole book.  On the whole it seems that Fox was writing the kind of story she’d like to read rather than fill a genre market-gap or follow a formula.

The Accidental Demon Slayer certainly does not hold back too much on gore, language or indeed sex. For this reason, despite its somewhat jovial look at the supernatural I would say that only adult readers should buy this book.

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Dead Thing by Andrew Hawnt (2011)

Posted: December 3, 2013 in Horror
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“Painting The Town Red!”

Dead Thing

Cover art by Richard Woollatt

The story centers around the actions of an otherworldly entity, a demon which survives and grows by inhabiting human hosts. Our major protagonist is Kevin, a young man whose days are numbered by Cystic Fibrosis. After a short encounter with the fiend he finds himself assisting a team of paranormal investigators in a desperate race to save his estranged lover Julie from becoming the creature’s final host.

While the supernatural action is incredibly graphic and extreme the brief episodes of normality are amazingly true to life. Andrew Hawnt clearly has a good grasp of his characters in their everyday lives with their pet hates, daily routines and waking thoughts. These scenes of the mundane serve to make the scenes of the macabre surprisingly believable. The main characters are realistic, intelligent and sympathetic people whose world is torn apart by a foe that you genuinely want them to defeat. In true Tech-Noir fashion much of the action takes place in the seedy world of clubland, where violence and panic are easier to camouflage into a backdrop of leisurely excess.

All in all Dead Thing is a fairly short read but it’s impact is hard. At Kindle price it is certainly worth buying just to try something a little different. I look forward to reading (and hopefully reviewing) the sequel.

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“Fantasy Without The Usual Suspects”


Magic Of Thieves is the first in the Legends Of Dimmingwood series. It chronicles in first person the life of Ilan, a young girl whose village was destroyed by royal soldiers. Fleeing after seeing both her parents murdered for witchcraft she finds herself taken in by bandits and starting a new life under the vast shadow of Dimmingwood.  Unlike most fantasy settings, Dimmingwood has none of the usual elves, goblins, or dragons which is frankly a refreshing change.  Despite the elven-looking cover art, Ilan herself is in fact human, although obviously from some kind of shrouded ancestry.

It is only a short read and is probably best suited to teenagers and young adults rather than children. The use of language is fairly stocky and robust like the setting itself but that is not a poor reflection on the author. We are introduced to a gritty unforgiving world so Magic Of Thieves needs little in the way poetic flourish.  The writing is direct but not at all clumsy.

As an overall story Magic Of Thieves can seem a little unstructured. There are no overwhelming morals or plot twists in this first installment, it merely sets the scene. Ilan is rather flawed as a main protaginist. She is selfish and immature in many ways but I have the feeling she will settle and find her place in the world later in the series.   It’s a case of bearing with her for now because at some point she’ll come through for you.

I’d recommend this story and this series to anyone over 13 if you like fantasy but are perhaps sick of orcs, elves & dwarves.

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