This isn't really a review. To what extent can you actually review a 'choose your own adventure' book anyway? The nature of Bus Station: Unbound puts me in a curious position: I've read the book four times, but I can't tell you how it ends. Not because I wasn't paying attention or because I don't want to spoil it, but because each time, the ending was different. Not just the ending: almost everything was different, other than the first few pages. The plot is dependent on the options you select, and the chain of possibilities in Bus Station: Unbound is a long and labyrinthine one.
Here's what I can tell you. The setting is Preston bus station, an imposing brutalist building that, in the hands of the authors, becomes a deeply sinister - and possibly inescapable - place. The protagonist (you) is a young woman who's returned to Preston after a period of time away, a failed attempt at escape, and is estranged from her family; but her (your) character is as enigmatic and slippery as the story itself. For example, there are frequent references to a tragedy that occurred in the town some years ago, claiming the lives of a group of children that included the protagonist's brother - but even after several reads through, I'm still not sure of the circumstances surrounding this. This sort of mystery will keep you wanting to go back to the book to try and uncover more details and answers.
While hints of weirdness (though not necessarily explicit horror) pervade the unpredictable atmosphere, the nature of the book means it's hard to say much else. Similarly, it isn't really possible to give away any spoilers unless I tell you exactly which choices I made at every turn - but just in case, I won't tell you about the endings I got on each try. What I will say is that the length of the story can vary from a short story to a long novella depending on your choices. And a hint, one the book itself actually gives you at certain points: 'educating yourself' is a safer way to negotiate this strange world than simply trying to explore.
Bus Station: Unbound is available to read online here. It's actually free to access, but the publisher asks that you make a donation through PayPal. As much as I love getting things for free, I think this is fair enough given the effort that must have been involved in actually, practically making it work - the publishers have said on Twitter that it has something close to 3 million possible permutations (!!!) (I went with £4, around the price it was originally slated to retail for on Kindle, which has proved undoable due to the complexity of the interlinked setup.)
If you like weird fiction, ghost stories and subtle horror, independent publishing collective Curious Tales should definitely be on your radar. This innovative, interactive novel is the second thing I've read from them - following the ghost story collection Poor Souls' Light - and I found it just as unique and interesting. It definitely offers something quite different from your usual reading experience....more
(2.5, rounded up to 3.) Minette Walters' entry in the Hammer Horror novella series is a tale of domestic horror rather than the supernatural sort - al(2.5, rounded up to 3.) Minette Walters' entry in the Hammer Horror novella series is a tale of domestic horror rather than the supernatural sort - although a pinch of the latter is added in to spice it up. It tells the story of Muna, an orphaned girl brought to the UK illegally and forced to work as a slave for a relatively wealthy family. Having endured terrible abuse, she finds her fortunes changing when her captors' son goes missing. She's finally allowed to masquerade as their daughter, and sets about getting an increasingly sadistic form of revenge. There are no real twists or surprises, but the story maintains suspense nevertheless, partly because you wonder whether Muna is going to get away with it, and partly because of hints that some other, darker, force is manipulating her; is this demonic influence real or a delusion?
Some of the Hammer books have felt fully-formed; others like they've been quickly written and forced to fit into the horror genre, however tenuously. The Cellar belongs in the latter category. It's a tense read, and had me hooked until I knew how it ended, but the ending itself seemed a bit like the author thought 'oh well, this'll do'. Mentioning something about the Devil doesn't make it an effective horror story. (view spoiler)[And how was it at all possible that the police wouldn't have noticed the hidden room-sized safe that... apparently had some sort of label on the outside explaining what it was and how it operated?! (hide spoiler)] I remember enjoying some of Walters' crime novels when I was in my early teens, and I also remember them being quite gory and twisted, so it's easy to see why she might be thought a natural fit for this series. The Cellar is probably one of the weaker offerings from this imprint; but, thanks to its gripping plot and how quickly I was able to finish it, it wasn't entirely a waste of time. ["br"]>["br"]>...more
There are some truly brilliant stories in this collection, but really it's more about the details than the whole. That goes for the stories themselvesThere are some truly brilliant stories in this collection, but really it's more about the details than the whole. That goes for the stories themselves, as well as the style. The best - such as 'Three Things You Should Know About Peggy Paula', 'Plans' and 'Heart' - are short and broken-up snapshots of the lives of dysfunctional characters; weird, dirty and bleak, but really, really gorgeous anyway. The high-concept stories don't always work quite as well, partly because you're constantly being propelled back to the striking beauty and effectiveness of particular sentences rather than whatever they're skirting around. Occasionally, Hunter's depictions of everyday discomfort stray further into more explicit disgust and border on bizarro, for example 'After', which begins 'After the apocalypse...' and goes on to, mainly, list outlandishly grotesque sights.
The showpiece story, the longest, is 'Our Man', which - seriously - reminded me of Roberto Bolaño's Antwerp, with its fragmentary and surreal narration, stray threads and recurring characters, its side-on, non-linear examination of an indistinct and possibly imagined crime. Like Antwerp, I wasn't sure whether it was nonsense or a work of genius, or, of course, both. A more general comparison for the whole collection is Amelia Gray's Threats - equally off-kilter and vaguely disturbing/disturbingly vague, with a similar overarching voice - although I enjoyed this more.
I probably did this book a disservice by hungrily reading most of the stories at once. Mostly bite-sized - there are 26 of them in this 193-page collection - Hunter's stories are so sharp and bright that they are best devoured individually, spread out between other reading. ...more
I like July's style and this is a fascinating story in many weird ways. But it's just making me too uncomfortable to carry on, to the point of physicaI like July's style and this is a fascinating story in many weird ways. But it's just making me too uncomfortable to carry on, to the point of physically squirming while reading it. I chose a really bad time to read it. I might come back to it but it'll be a while, I think. ...more
Skimmed. Thought I might read a bad thriller with a tub of Ben & Jerry's for Valentine's Day... This was just too asinine though. And it did the iSkimmed. Thought I might read a bad thriller with a tub of Ben & Jerry's for Valentine's Day... This was just too asinine though. And it did the internet very poorly indeed. ...more
Mixing theology, political history, modern philosophy and contemporary literary criticism, this is a readable and entertaining treatise on the conceptMixing theology, political history, modern philosophy and contemporary literary criticism, this is a readable and entertaining treatise on the concept of evil. It's short - actually more like a long-form essay - and although its conclusions are arguably vague, it's very interesting, and you will come away with a long list of further reading....more
No Easy Answers is a true crime book about the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, notable because it's co-written by Brooks Brown, who was a clasNo Easy Answers is a true crime book about the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, notable because it's co-written by Brooks Brown, who was a classmate and alleged friend of the shooters. It's for this reason, I suppose, that I have come across various recommendations of this book over Dave Cullen's Columbine, though the latter is by all accounts more accomplished; for whatever reason, I've had an idea fixed in my head for some time that this was the definitive Columbine book. Watching the first season of American Horror Story, in which one character's crime is very clearly and specifically based on the Columbine shootings, brought it back into my mind. (I also had this sudden compulsion to read loads of true crime which inexplicably disappeared as soon as it inexplicably arrived, lasting about a day in total.)
I think this sort of thing - a famous crime or incident or whatever it might be, described from the viewpoint of someone who was close to it but not actually involved - usually reveals more about that person than it does about the crime or incident. No Easy Answers made me think of Dreams of a Life, the documentary film about Joyce Vincent, the young woman whose body lay unnoticed in her flat for two years. The object of Dreams of a Life was to unravel how such a thing could have happened, how Joyce, who was popular and appeared to lead a full, varied life, was not missed or searched for. But through its interviews with people who knew her, the film revealed much more about their personalities and attitudes than it did about Joyce; whether this was the filmmaker's intention or not, I felt it was a character study of them, not her. Similarly, No Easy Answers ends up saying a lot more about Brooks Brown than it does about the Columbine shooters.
The book steers all its arguments towards two targets - the culture of bullying at Columbine (the focus here being the teachers who allowed and encouraged bullying to happen rather than the students perpetrating it) and the incompetence of police. These factors are blamed for the shooting at the expense of any other possible influences. For example, the idea that more stringent gun laws would have helped prevent the massacre is (more than once) dismissed within a couple of sentences, with Brown vaguely arguing that people determined to get hold of weapons will manage to do it no matter what the laws are. Some of the revelations about the police's lack of interest in early signs of criminal potential from the shooters are, admittedly, shocking, if not exactly surprising. The bullying accusations are more problematic - while I remain convinced that bullying was a factor, even if only a minor one, the way the issue is discussed here doesn't really do anything to put forward a coherent case, partly because it's too heavily defined by personal experience.
Brown basically seems very much like someone who is still really struggling with having been bullied at school and is still very bitter and angry about it. That's understandable - it took me until adulthood to get over various experiences of bullying too, and I know some people my age who still haven't shaken that mindset off entirely, and of course it isn't surprising that if this was his own experience, he'd naturally be keen to emphasise its significance in influencing the mindsets of the shooters. But it also makes the author sound very immature and biased when discussing the reasons the attack happened. The repeated mentions of Brown's own musical tastes and how these made him 'different' are pretty cringey; he also comes off as someone who thinks he's a lot smarter than he actually is. Despite the anti-bullying agenda, there's often a sense that Brown is pushing a right-wing individualistic philosophy (the Ayn Rand quotes...) and there's also a strong and pretty nasty streak of sexism running throughout the book. His parents don't come out of it much better - in fact, if there was one thing this book highlighted for me that I hadn't thought much about before, it's exactly how privileged, spoilt and cosseted all these kids were. Added to that, going by the evidence in this book, the repeated claim that Brown was Dylan Klebold's 'best friend' seems shaky: it doesn't appear that the two were particularly close.
I never usually leave books without a rating, but I'm not sure where I would place this one: I'm less confident about rating it because it's not as if I've read a lot of true crime to compare it to. It was interesting to read this to get the perspective of someone who was close to the shooters and the subsequent investigation (Brown himself was implicated as a potential accomplice and went through a legal battle to establish his innocence). But the style and tone were offputting, and I don't feel I really learned anything new - there wasn't anything here that I haven't already read on the internet, although I realise it would have been far more revelatory when it was first published in 2002....more