The Last Days of Jack Sparks, by Jason Arnopp

❧ Title: The Last Days of Jack Sparks
❧ Author: Jason Arnopp
❧ Publisher: Orbit
❧ Publication date: 3rd March 2016
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦

Jack Sparks died while writing this book. This is the account of his final days. In 2014, Jack Sparks – the controversial pop culture journalist – died in mysterious circumstances. To his fans, Jack was a fearless rebel; to his detractors, he was a talentless hack. Either way, his death came as a shock to everyone. It was no secret that Jack had been researching the occult for his new book. He’d already triggered a furious Twitter storm by mocking an exorcism he witnessed in rural Italy. Then there was that video: thirty-six seconds of chilling footage that Jack repeatedly claimed was not of his making, yet was posted from his own YouTube account.

Nobody knew what happened to Jack in the days that followed – until now. This book, compiled from the files found after his death, reveals the chilling details of Jack’s final hours

jack sparks❝In A Nutshell❞

✎ Jack Sparks is an asshole who is also a former journalist, who started writing books. Jack Sparks On The Supernatural is the book we’re reading, with (more or less insightful/biased/self-serving asshattery) frequent annotations by his brother, Alistar Sparks, and the occasional piece of additional material from additional sources. Since Jack always wrote his books as he was researching them, that’s why we have a more-or-less finished version of Jack Sparks On The Supernatural.

✎ Jack Sparks does not believe in the supernatural–and he’s about to prove that it’s all one big lie. That’s what this book is: Jack Sparks globetrotting to wave a big flag for Science and tell the world what’s what. Or, at least that’s what he thinks he’s going to do. Instead, Jack finds himself in the middle of the twisted game of a dark entity that wants to teach him a lesson, after Jack inflicts the greatest insult of all during an exorcism: he laughs.

✎ We read through a detailed account of the truth of what happened to Jack Sparks, and the book is literally written as the book Jack himself would have/did written/write. It works really well. Additionally, the audiobook is very effective because of this, especially with the first-person recounting of events.

✎ Diverse 🚫 (unfortunately not: the suggestion of a bi/lesbian character as a throwaway line half used for (I’m assuming??) comedic purposes, however ambiguous, doesn’t count; additionally, seeking out a medium in Hong Kong, who is then white with an Asian sidekick, isn’t really fab)

❝What I loved, aka Jack Sparks is an asshole❞

✎ This is a fact straight off the bat. But the thing is, he’s an entertaining asshole and he writes a pretty good book. But more than that, he’s the kind of asshole that was made and not born. I won’t go in to too much detail, since some of it is vaguely spoilery for later on in the book, but the fact remains: Jack’s a little bit complicated. He covers it all up beneath layers of self-confidence and bravado (fake it until you make it, that was the Jack Sparks’ motto) until there’s not much left of whoever he was before. And since the drugs… Well, he’s probably more of an asshole than he’s ever been before. I picked this book up after attending a panel at NineWorlds Geekfest 2016 and liked the sound of the book, and also thought Jason Arnopp was pretty entertaining and did a good job of selling Jack Sparks to me–and the convention panel sales pitch (so to speak) did not disappoint.

✎ This book feels like it’s written by a guy who is saying, “Hey, guys (to the reader), we know there’s a bit more to the supernatural than just black or white, right? Get a load of this guy–get a load of Jack Sparks. What an idiot. Guy’s a fool right? Let me show you how much of a fool.” The Last Days of Jack Sparks is the “found footage” equivalent of a book, with Jack having written the whole story down, even through (or especially, through) the really, really unbelievable parts of what happens to him, in his, aforementioned, last days. If you buy into to supernatural (I do: bite me) or if you’re even just an intermediate in horror, you’ll recognise all the mistakes Jack makes, even before he makes them, and you’ll see the freaky bits coming a mile away. There’s a sense of foreboding when following Jack around on the writing of his latest (and last) book and it goes deeper than just us knowing that he’s going to shuffle off this mortal coil; it’s almost as though we, the reader, are experiencing something a little bit meta, already knowing how things are going to go, whilst simultaneously wondering how we’re going to get there.

✎ But there’s more to this book than just an asshole amateur ghost-hunter trying to prove that ghosts, in fact, don’t exist. Jack has a lot of issues, and so many of them lead him to this place, right here, pissing off the big evil guy himself and ending up dead. His brother, Alistair, is a first-rate jackass (don’t be fooled by his calm, rational and sometimes over-saccharine footnotes–the guy’s a jerk) and Jack’s childhood was an elongated episode of Dad Left Because Of You and You Don’t Matter. Up grows Jack, issues in tow like a subscription to Vogue and with a desperation to make everything further in his life about him, him, him–about Jack, Jack, Jack. In a sad way, he gets exactly what he wants.

✎ Don’t get me wrong–Jack is an asshole. He’s that me, me, me kind of guy who is casually sexist and assumes he deserves all the space in a room–in a building. Why not the world? He is entirely a product of being ignored as a child and damn, if he ever lets that happen again: Jack Sparks is what he is and he thinks he’s happy with that. And perhaps he is, until Jack Sparks On Drugs and everything started to unravel. And maybe he could have even kept himself together, if not for what came next–if he’d not run away from everything and hidden himself down some dark rabbit hole under the pretence of writing another book.

✎ By the time he gets to even thinking of Jack Sparks On The Supernatual, the deal is already done and Jack is bound for complete failure. It’s almost as if it was inevitable, really. Maybe it was.

❝What I didn’t love❞

✎ Not a lick of diversity. Boo.

✎ White medium in Hong Kong with a Chinese sidekick dealing with a haunting. The other way around would have been more authentic and inclusive. Chinese combat sorcerer and a white sidekick, or, better still, two Chinese ladies to kick some ghost ass.

✎ Awkward dialogue scene between two female characters, with one obviously having asked the other if she’d be interesting in sexy time (jet lag makes her horny) and the other girl being a little confused by the question before saying she hasn’t and sounding perplexed by the question. It honestly felt a bit weird and so either should have been cut altogether, or handled in not so ham-fisted fashion. Since it only lasts literally two or three lines it did not need to be there.

❝If you liked this…❞
… you might like: the upcoming Jack Sparks movie? (Cop-out rec because I don’t read much horror and have no idea what else to suggest!)

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This Dark Endeavour, by Kenneth Oppel [The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein #1]

Title: This Dark Endeavour
(The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein #2)
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Publication date: 7th June 2011
Rating: 

large-high-res-PB1-666x1024The first thing that drew me to This Dark Endeavour was the cover. I’m down with seeing pretty girl on YA covers—totally—but sometimes it nice to see boys. And well, the model on the cover is fairly delicious, in all his gothic-y goodness. Which is to be expected, since This Dark Endeavour is essentially the prequel to Mary Shelley’s classic, Frankenstein. Which, I have to admit to not having read. (You’ll find I’ve not really read anything dating back before the late 80s, unless you count assigned texts at school, such as the usual Of Mice and Men etc. [Which, being perfectly honest, is another I have no idea as to when it was published.] Therefore, I’ve not read anything in the same period as Shelley, or anything Gothic whatsoever.)

Regardless, I adored this book.

Given that it’s a prequel to a book written by someone Oppel could not have known, there were certain boundaries imposed as to what he could and could not do—to a point. He imaginatively crafted a believable history and backstory for the eventual Dr Frankenstein, giving him a different sense of live and separation from his older incarnation, but also bringing the whole focus of the story to this new, young Victor in the past. Essentially, Frankenstein and his monster are, for now, forgotten.

Victor and his twin brother Konrad, and their lives at Chateau Frankenstein form the centre point of the story. Add in a beautiful, very distant cousin and their collective best friend Henry, and already the idea of reanimated monsters is far from mind.

When Konrad falls ill and despite the family’s efforts, there seems to be nothing to cure him. Weak and with a fever refusing to break, it does not look good. But mere days before, whilst exploring the chateau’s many rooms, they find a secret. Inside the walls of the library and down into the dark, they discover the dark library of their ancestor Wilhelm Frankenstein. Their ancestor was known to be into alchemy and other dark things—until he simply vanished one day, leaving the chateau he’d built himself and his family with it.

Inside this library, Victor finds something that he is certain can cure his brother. It a recipe, but not for just any medicine—this is for the elixir of life. If nothing else will heal his brother, surely this can? Of course, this means setting out to not only find someone who can translate the ancient, damaged tome, but also finding the ingredients and exhibiting the skill and courage to produce the elixir itself. Something granting immortal life will not be as easy as poaching an egg, that’s for sure. Victor will have his work cut out.

The best thing about this book is that it’s a gothic horror YA novel that really does invest itself in the supernatural; the alchemical and the mystical. There were elements that did disappoint, but I expected them from the start—had Oppel done something different and ironic to close the book, I would have been impressed enough to cough up the five stars I thought this book might get when I was only partway through. Yet in the end, the sad predictability that also felt like some kind of higher moral lesson that denounced the very supernatural the book itself appeared to be built around made it so the end tasted bitter and expected. I wanted to be surprised, to have some clever quirk at the end that really, really made this into a fantastical novel.

However, I still loved this book. It was effortlessly creepy, tense and full of suspense and danger. Parts of the book do fall into place a little too easily, with the action barely moving from the safe vicinity of the Frankenstein’s native stomping ground, but the book is fun enough and written in a fashion rich and colourful enough so that I just let all these coincidences slide.

Victor was an energetic, imperfect protagonist and I took to him immediately. This book would not have worked with Konrad in the lead. Victor might be the younger twin, the less popular twin, but he is by far the most interesting to read about. At Victor’s heart lurks a deep sense of jealously over how easily life falls into place for Konrad—an envy he doesn’t truly realise until they both develop feelings for the same person. This isn’t a love triangle (and so damn what if it is, huh? What is this thing against love triangles? Which, I might add, technically aren’t love triangles at all if we’re using the classical Greek model for a love triangle, which requires each point of the triangle to be directing their love in a different direction. Anything else, two people liking the same person; that’s a chevron, people! A point! An arrow! /rant) and it certainly doesn’t dominate the plot or the emotions of those involved. The plot remains entirely focussed on saving Konrad.

4-star copyThe supporting cast is fairly generic: we have Elizabeth, the beautiful cousin, who is also pluckier than given credit for, certainly not a wilting damsel; and Henry, the timid son of a merchant who is reliable, but frightens easily. Still, they are enjoyable to be around and coupled with the enigmatic Victor, the cast is strong and definitely compatible with one another and the story at hand. It is woven perfectly and demonstrates excellent pacing. All in all, it was a very enjoyable story; addictive and compelling.

I just wish the end had been a clever thing that felt ironic and witty. But I had to settle for predictable. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed This Dark Endeavour and certainly enjoyed the notion of reading about the teenage lives of classic literary characters.