His Hideous Heart edited by Dahlia Adler

Published: 10th September 2019 (print)/10th September 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Flatiron Books/MacMillan Audio
Pages: 480/14 hrs and 13 mins
Narrator: Various
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Horror/Anthology/Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Edgar Allan Poe may be a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his beloved works have much in common with modern young adult fiction. Whether the stories are familiar to readers or discovered for the first time, readers will revel in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, and how they’ve been brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways.

My main exposure to Poe has been the Simpsons and the amazing Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Dinner Party series on YouTube. But Poe is such a huge name in literature the references are often found in the most unlikely places. This retelling of Poe’s short stories are an amazing contribution to Poe’s legacy because they bring modernity to his tales while keeping the themes and the unnerving nature of his imagination to new audiences.

I loved the way these authors have retold the original stories. You can see the evidence of the original Poe stories coming through but the unique modern and not so modern settings these interpretations are divine. Some of the stories have a close similarity to the original Poe tales, others have a similarity that is easily recognisable, while others change completely but the theme and intention remains. The horror side is mild otherwise I wouldn’t be touching this, nothing overly grotesque but it is eerie and unsettling which is perfect for any Poe story. There’re sinister intentions and things from out of this world, but each of these authors tells stories that are modern, timeless, and in other realms altogether.

A rarity for an anthology I enjoyed all of these stories. Of course some were more engaging and intriguing than others, but I found that each story had its own curiosities that kept your mind working, especially as you think about what the original story is that they are retelling. Absolute stand outs for me include Happy Days, Sweetheart (The Tell-Tale Heart)The Oval Filter (The Oval Portrait), and She Rode a Horse of Fire (Metzengerstein); and I loved the creativity of The Glittering Death (The Pit and the Pendulum)Changeling (Hop-Frog), and It’s Carnival! (The Cask of Amontillado). But there were so many other wonderful ones like Lygia (Lygia)Night-Tide (Annabel Lee), and The Fall of the Bank of Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher) where each author brought their own styles and imagination into a story that I was amazed the same story could be told but in a completely new way. These authors have given voices to those who didn’t have a voice before. The first person nature of many of these stories allows insight into intent, thoughts, and justification which is fabulous considering some of the deeds depicted in these stories.

The audio version is narrated by each of the authors, telling their own tale to the listener. They also narrated the original Poe story that their reimagining is based on. I enjoyed listening to these authors read their own stories. They had good pace and range of voices which helps you enjoy the stories even more.

I do prefer the new versions, they bring modernity not necessarily in their settings or content, but in their language. Compared with Poe there is a lot less waffling and wordiness (looking at you The Purloined Letter) that is removed while still maintaining the theme and tone of the stories. That is to say some were quite enjoyable, they are dark and sinister, creative and poetic. It is easy to see why Poe’s stories have lived on. These retelling do that wonderfully, even if you don’t read the originals you can still enjoy these retellings, they keep Poe’s intentions alive and the haunting nature of some of these stories is still ever present.

You can purchase His Hideous Heart via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible


A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Published: 5th May 2011Goodreads badge
 Walker Books
Pages: 216
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it isn’t the monster Connor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…
This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Connor.
It wants the truth. 

I had an interesting experience reading this, I was told there’d be a dog in it, and aside from thinking about when this non-existent dog was going to show up, it was a sad and beautiful story. This is not a full Ness original, it was written based on ideas conceptualised by Siobhan Dowd. Having read nothing else by either author I had no idea what to expect but I was not disappointed.

There is so much to love about this book; I love Connor’s fierce bravery and protectiveness of his mum, I love the mystery and the suspense of waiting for the monster and the uncertainty about what it means. I even loved Connor’s frustration. Ness depicts perfectly Connor’s conscious and unconscious desire to be seen, to be punished, to be treated normally. You can sense it bubbling under the surface and Ness builds up suspense slowly with excellent pacing that makes you eagerly turn the page. Ness doesn’t state outright what is wrong with her but there are enough clues to figure it out. The bond between them is evident and Connor’s determination to keep things as they were is heartbreaking but admirable.

The edition I read was filled with wonderfully dark black and white sketches by Jim Kay (the same man who is currently illustrating Harry Potter). These illustrations reinforced the eerie, mysterious nature of the book and Connor’s interactions with the monster. They captured the nightmare feel and the mystical and Kay manages to keep it very simple but still show so much.

As a character, the monster is an intriguing one. He doesn’t seem evil, but he does seem formidable and unforgiving. I really enjoyed his interactions with Connor, and Kay brings him to life on the page wonderfully as well.

This may be a tough book for some people due to the depiction and description of experiencing cancer and the impact it has on the family, but it is also a very important story about it as well. I fully recommend this book to people, it’s a very strong story told very simply and very imaginatively.

You can purchase A Monster Calls via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia

Book Depository | BookWorld

Amazon | Amazon Aust

QBD | Fishpond


Nocturnes by John Connolly

Published: February 28th 2007
Goodreads badgePublisher: Hodder
Pages: 486
Format: Book
Genre: Short stories/Horror/Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

 A dark, daring, utterly haunting anthology of lost lovers and missing children, predatory demons, and vengeful ghosts. In these stories, Connolly ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable — and irresistible — levels. Nocturnes is a deliciously chilling collection from “one of the best thriller writers we have” (Harlan Coben)

John Connolly’s short stories in this book are dark and magical and monstrous, in so many different ways. All monsters are different, not all monsters can be seen, and there is always something lurking in the dark. There are 17 stories in this collection, each of them revealing something terrifying and eerie. The variety Connolly comes up with are amazing, and the fact we do not always find out what exactly is hiding in the shadows is what adds to the delight. What isn’t told leaves a lot to your own imagination to fill in the gaps, and what is told is just haunting enough to stay with you even as you move onto the next story.

With the opening story, The Cancer Cowboy, you know that these stories may not be entirely pleasant or uplifting, but with the other stories varying from being less dark and tragic to being simply eerie, or on occasion humorously tragic, you are given a wide variety in which to challenge your nerves and keep you awake at night.

Connolly writes with a wonderful descriptive simplicity. We are given details and basic information, but there are things we aren’t told as well. What we are told is what we need to be told for the story to progress and for us to understand. Anything else is revealed gradually in conversation, or implied through something else, or we don’t need to know it at all. The joy of the short story, and the art I suppose, is trying to capture a life within less space than normally provided. Connolly gives us characters that are as developed as they have to be for the roles and situations they are placed in. You do not always need to know everything about them, but we are not left with any husks of characters that we have no sympathy for and for what is happening to them or around them.

The title Nocturnes comes from one of the stories within the book, a story about things that come out in the dark, that haunt you, and hide in the shadows; the very name suitable to cover the nature of these stories. Nocturnes can be defined as “a work of art dealing with evening or night”, something these stories do, mixed together with the creepy and scary.  Connolly draws you in as you read with the mystery and unknown, but also compassion for the characters involved; of the innocent parties, the guilty, and even an admiration for the monsters. The extent of what he has created is of such variety it must be said it isn’t all darkness and shadows, but the daylight monsters are no less unnerving than anything that Connolly creates in the night time shadows I assure you.

One stand out addition was the Charlie Parker novella The Reflecting Eye towards the end. Even this manages to suit the theme Connolly has going rather well. Charlie Parker is from Connolly’s detective series, with this novella being between the fourth and the fifth in the series.  I have yet to read any of the Charlie Parker novels; I suppose with this novella I have had a taste now to reignite my desire to start reading them.

From the man who wrote the beauty of The Book of Lost Things, seeing the darker side was very revealing. The Book of Lost Things had its own darkness certainly, but the darkness and monsters hiding inside Nocturnes, whether they are treated with a distracting light heartedness like some, a mysteriousness that remains not entirely revealed, or one that brings a twist, is something that I found very exciting, and a wonderful surprise. Perhaps it was because we don’t always know what is happening, we only see snippets of events and what happens, or perhaps it is because it shows that darkness can breed anything and anywhere, and no one is exempt from its talons.

Call of the Jersey Devil by Aurelio Voltaire

Published: May 28th 2013
Goodreads badgePublisher: Spence City
Pages: 248
Format: Book
Genre: Horror/Paranormal/Humour Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Five suburban mall rats and a washed up Goth singer find themselves stranded in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey where they discover two horrifying truths: The Jersey Devil, hellspawn of folklore and legend, is real; and New Jersey (as many already suspected) is the gateway to Hell!

With the help of one lone witch, this small group must face off against their deepest fears and the most unholy monsters in a battle where their very souls, the world they live in, and any chance of returning to Hot Topic in one piece is at stake!

I was given an ARC copy of this book by the publisher.

The idea that the gateway to hell is in a forest in New Jersey is a pretty enticing way to base a novel. As soon as we begin the story we are thrown into the world of a mysterious creature and what it is capable of doing, then as we move on to a different world entirely we know it is just a matter of time before two worlds collide and creates the trouble this causes for those involved.

Call of the Jersey Devil tells the story of five “mall rat” teenagers who travel to the New Jersey Pine Barrens to see Gothic singer Villy Bats, however things are not all they seem, and when all hell starts to break loose (I love that this has become a literal phrase), they are soon faced with an entire underworld itching to get out through the gates of hell. Enlisting the help of a witch the teens and Villy must fight to stop the gates from opening further, and flooding the world with demonic incarnations, one of which is the legendary figure known as the Jersey Devil.
Being a fan of Voltaire’s work and having watched him provide updates on the book’s development for months, I sat here patiently waiting to finally get a chance to read it. After given the chance to read an Advanced Reader Copy I jumped at the opportunity. Having now finished it, almost unable to put down unless I had to, I am so glad it lived up to my expectations and went beyond what I ever thought it would be. It seems wrong to seemingly praise Voltaire for somehow writing such an excellent book as a first time novelist, almost as if it were unexpected, but not only do I know many first time authors who write excellent books, but Voltaire has a long successful creative and storytelling history behind him, this time it has simply descended on the page rather than in a graphic novel, a song, or a film.

But while Voltaire is a good storyteller, there is no doubt he is also a good writer. There are sentences and phrases in this book that are wonderful, all nestled in amongst the joking and the teenagers, and the whole ordeal of this demonic spawn and an opening underworld. The descriptions are excellent as well, whether they are of people, demons, or the environment around them. The way Voltaire writes you can immediately conjure up images and feeling of people and events; especially the scenes in the woods, not to mention the ominous feeling of uncertain darkness and the monsters it hides.

Along with descriptions there are also some very insightful moments in this book, as well as evoking one-liners and entire ideas expressed eloquently, often needing very few words attached to them. Voltaire has a way with words that is very beautiful; perhaps this is the long established creator within, or simply an observant and insightful personality coming through on the page, or perhaps both. Whatever the case it is certainly a talent to create a compelling and engaging story that can make you think, feel, as well as be fearful and grossed out all at the same time.

What I enjoyed about Call of the Jersey Devil is the fact that is has so much in it, but it never seems crowded, nor does it jump and feel fractured as you read. The opening of the book and early chapters are definitely designed to set up our characters and lead us into the oncoming events that connect you to the title. This beginning I feel is needed because it impacts on the remainder of the story, as well as how you perceive and assess the characters themselves.

Whether this was my own over thinking or not, but I felt that we were introduced to these “mall rats” as we were to give us a chance at creating our own preconceptions and assessments on them as people. Certainly other characters and they themselves fed this opinion, but in doing so it gives a lot of power to the rest of the novel which then begins to break down these initial judgements.

Voltaire changes point of view throughout and we are able to see the unfolding events through almost every characters eyes and thoughts. In doing so we are also given the opportunity to gain an insight into their history and back story to show you who they are and how they came to be that way. Aside from providing histories, it is interesting to see how each character treats the circumstances they are in, some relish it, some fear it, while others hate it.

Villy was an interesting character, if not complex. I enjoyed his character more I think because of his complexities and imperfections, that is what makes him real. The same can  be said for the others; these characters, especially the mall rats: Stuey, Prudence, Ari, AJ, and Aleister, are portrayed as real people, all with the quirky, obnoxious, selfish, vain and adoring aspects that is within anybody. Voltaire is very good at showing the readers that there is certainly a ‘group persona’ that is separate from who someone really is. This is why having alternating points of view and providing back stories helps you understand these characters a lot more, you see them as who they are, not only as the face they put on for the public.

You do get to see these characters behave separately from their group persona. This helps you not to instantly dismiss them as selfish teenagers who are loud and obnoxious and rude to one another, they all have a reason and Voltaire shows us, giving us a little more understanding, and yet almost not enough to excuse everything that they do, more to show how it has shaped who they became. This doesn’t always change any opinions or add much sympathy, but we are given an explanation.

Towards the middle of the book the story settles in nicely and it is now that everything begins to unravel, and it isn’t long before it is strange, and is possibly grotesque to some, but it is brilliant. There is a strange absurdness about it that is compelling and wonderful. You can certainly see where the influences came from of the genre films, and yet it does not read as cliché and over done either. The additional elements Voltaire added makes it humorous, and yet still terrifying and clever at the same time.

While it is grotesque in some parts, you cannot ignore the humour, this almost balances out the unpleasant details and descriptions Voltaire gives to the demonic faction within the woods. There is snarky sarcasm, and amusing moments that sit either side of the ‘horror’ aspect, but there is also some that cuts through the horror and breaks up the unpleasant scenes.

There were events in this book that took me by surprise in some cases, and not in others, but all were engaging, and in some cases saddening, all contrasting within a single chapter at times. There are also some very heartfelt moments in this book which was certainly a surprise, but certainly well placed and executed. There is the correct balance between the parody, the horror, and the realism to make it work very well. It isn’t even an equal balance, that is not what the story requires, but where these moments happen and by whom are perfectly placed to suit the character and the narrative.

I loved the ending of this book; I thought it was perfect for where the story began and how it played out. I think the way Voltaire established his characters and how we get to know them, not to mention the situations they get themselves in, helped explain and make the ending scenes and epilogue ideal. What was wonderful was the fact that Voltaire keeps you engaged and laughing throughout and until the end, which is very hard when you have demons, teenagers, witches, and the paranormal to contend with. There is also amazing and detailed artworks that accompany this story, certainly not required as the descriptions do them justice, but by having a startling sketch to illustrate a scene create an impressive impact on the mind when you continue reading. And entire idea can be captured in one of those drawings, there are just the right amount to suit just the right needs.

In his interview Voltaire said he was a storyteller, and he is; but there is also novel here. Within this story there are glimpses and hints of beauty and art, hiding amongst this “storytelling”. So while when you hear storyteller you may think casual conversational tone, there will be a lot that will surprise you with this book. For someone who does not read, Voltaire can write. But we already knew that. You only need to look at his songs or his films, or his other works to know he is talented, and know that reading does not always equate to talent or skill in writing.

You still have time for pre-orders before Call of the Jersey Devil is released on May 28th.