Friday, 26 August 2016

Book review: The Last Days of Jack Sparks

The Last Days of Jack Sparks
Jason Arnopp
Kindle edition, 2016

You know what I haven't read for a long time? A straight up, no holds barred horror story. No future set dystopia, no spookiness in space; just a real-world frightfest. I'm pleased to say that Jason Arnopp's latest, The Last Days of Jack Sparks, fits that bill. Weird, gore-filled and creepy throughout, if you're a fan of supernatural tales of hauntings and possessions this is well worth a read.

Set up as a book within a book, readers first meet Jack Sparks' brother. This first person introduction sets the scene; Jack Sparks was writing a book about the supernatural. Something terrible happened. What follows are the gathered writings of Mr. Sparks, with a few extra notes provided via emails, audio and video files. This opening reflects a trend through the body of this book; hint at whats to come via a narrator who is writing after the event. Tied in with this is the problem of unreliable voices, as everyone we hear from thoughout the story has their own agenda.

Before long we're in the head of Jack Sparks himself as he embarks on a mission to prove that the supernatural doesn't exist. Imagine if Richard Dawkins, Piers Morgan and Christopher Hitchens were combined into one, with a dash of Krishnan Guru-Murphy. Yes, that bad. Sparks is full of himself, entitled, selfish and unbending. But he is funny. Inevitably his dealings with the supernatural get all too real but Sparks isn't for believing any of it. Or maybe, just maybe, he's right and it's all a big hoax. Though the author gives a pretty strong indication which way it actually went, even to the end there is a lingering question mark.

Speaking of the supernatural, one massive positive is how genuinely spooky this story is. The scenes where the metaphysical shit hits the fan are not just great fun but genuinely creep-inducing. Not The Shining level of scares, but definitely enough to make your skin crawl and turn the light on before you go into a dark room. Arnopp isn't a subtle build kind of guy in the way King is but he doesn't need to be; this is a larger than life modern morality tale, with more in common with The Ring and The Evil Dead than with Aesop's fables.

My only real gripe is the main character. He's intensely dis-likable but just when I was getting sick of his bullshit he'd pull me back in with a funny or inappropriate comment. And that's kind of the point; Jack Sparks is no hero. He is not someone you'd want to have in your life. But he is compelling. And that is probably the most intriguing thing going on here. Even the most vile human being can solicit feelings of sympathy, given the right (or wrong) situation.

With plenty of contemporary references, The Last Days of Jack Sparks, is a thrilling ride from start to end. How often do you get to read something that's actually fun, that makes you smile and makes you shiver? If you too are looking around for a new horror story to try then this one is definitely worth a go.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Still trucking on

Once again life has been getting ahead of me. My plans to write and exercise more have not exactly gone to plan. But I find focusing on the plus side of things is better than dwelling on the bad, so a quick update on the last month or so:

  • I had a wonderful holiday in Tenerife; ten days and nights of sun, good food and good drink.
  • I've read some great books lately, including the final Discworld novel Terry Pratchett ever wrote. *sob*
  • I'm now working out four days in a row, with three days off between. Definitely getting stronger!
  • My writing has been slow but I've finished a couple of drafts of a time travel story. Still not sure if it's any good or not, but it continues to be a work in progress.
  • I've been getting practise in setting up a website from scratch with Wordpress.
  • I have begun to tentatively write up ideas and details of a novel that has been rumbling around in my head for over a year.

Despite feeling like I'm not achieving much I've actually been doing a lot of things. It's funny how, until you write down what you've been doing, life can feel like it's slipping by. There's probably some kernel of wisdom there. One thing I haven't been keeping up with is my Passion Planner, which was always useful in keeping me grounded and directed. I'm going to make an effort to get used to updating it again, as the weekly look backs are really useful in seeing where you've not made the best use of your time as well as what your achievements were.

I'm still hopeful I can get a story or two published this year, if I keep plugging away at the words. At the very least I hope to get a previously published short released on Kindle by 2017 and a novel largely plotted out. Of course my day job may have other ideas...

Watch this space!