BLOG

BLOG
Book Reviews

MEET EMMA

MEET EMMA
Illustration

Portfolio

Portfolio
Portfolio

A book to treasure

There are some books of sentimental value in my collection that I know I will keep with me for years to come.

One of them is a copy of Heidi that was once my great grandmother's, then my nanna's, my mum's and now mine. It was the book my mum was named after, and one of the things my nanna gave to me on my 10th birthday. It holds a special place in my heart for this reason, as well as being a very lovely illustrated, ancient copy of a rare and beautiful story.

Another is a book I wasn't expecting, given to me from a friend who learnt a whole lot about me in a very short space of time; enough for her to manage to pick out the perfect story for me, and my first Jodi Picoult novel. That's quite a feat in my opinion!

Another is the first book I remember to actually affect my life at a level deeper than entertainment.

The last holds the evidence of the first time a character ever held my heart... and left it. Tear splatters mar the print of the final chapter, and I can only assume each re-read will continue in the same vein, until the finale is illegible.

It does sadden me that a book might not get passed down and experienced in such a physical way in the near future, if e-readers prevail amongst the reading formats. So I thought I would dedicate a blog post to the sentiment "real" books can hold. Ones that carry inscriptions and personal dedications, one's that contain memories within their pages and not just their stories; tear stained pages, notes used as bookmarks, highlighted passages and asterisked notes in the margins...

So, here's to books - why not share your favorite book memories in the comments?


 
0

Merry Christmas to all my lovely readers!

Hope to see you back here in 2013! x


0

The words of Christmas

There is nothing like a book to plant the festive spirit right into your soul! So let's find the "true meaning" of Christmas in our literary favourites, especially amidst all the turmoil in the world right now. It's not about santa, show-y light displays, giant puddings or big gifts in mass quantities - it's about thoughtfulness, family, friends and sharing in each others' company. It might even be about the annual "Eastenders/Strictly come Dancing/Downtown Xmas Special" debate - whatever brings you all together ;) Here are some of my favourite Christmas quotes - and a quote from Dumbledore that I just love despite the gift focus, seriously, what a moan to have eh?! TOO MANY BOOKS?!


***

“One can never have enough socks," said Dumbledore. "Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn't get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone 

((I have to say, Dumbledore, that's a #FirstWorldProblem right there!))

***

“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”Charles Dickens

***

“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn't come from a store.”Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas 

***

“I love snow for the same reason I love Christmas: It brings people together while time stands still.” Rachel Cohn, Dash And Lily's Book of Dares 

***

"But Ma asked if they were sure the stockings were empty. Then they put their hands down inside them, to make sure. And in the very toe of each stocking was a shining bright, new penny! They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny. Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny. There never had been such a Christmas."Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie

What are your favourite quotes about Christmas?

 
0

Books I'm looking forward to in 2013

A Carlos Ruiz Zafon overload

The English translations of Marina, The Watcher in the Shadows and the final part of the Barcelona Quartet will be published in 2013 from the master storyteller Carlos Ruiz Zafon - my favourite author. I have been waiting for the Marina translation for YEARS, and in October my wait will be over. My excitement for the final installment of the Barcelona Quartet really cannot amount to words; The Prisoner of Heaven left so many open questions! These books are top of my list for 2013.

Can Stephen King deliver the goods for round two of The Shining?

The sequel to The Shining is released in September. Dr Sleep will surely have the hype, but I've not enjoyed a Stephen King book since The Dreamcatcher... and that was a long time ago now... Still, with a great story to pick up from, I'm holding up hope that this will be just as good!

Setterfield FINALLY releases another novel(la)!

The Thirteenth Tale is a brilliant book for lovers of gothic thrillers, and drew from the icons of the genre unashamedly in a way that celebrated them all. It amazes me, then, that Diane Setterfield has not yet written anything else - until now! All that has been said so far is that she will release "a ghost story novella" in Autumn 2013. I wait with baited breath.

Picoult gives my me and my mum some thoughtful reading

I love Jodi Picoult. And no, I don't care what you think about that ;) Her latest novel to be released in February is The Storyteller. An elderly German man confesses to war crimes and asks to die, Picoult's usual moral dilemma analysis ensues. Gimme gimme gimme!

And further into the future...

The Book of Dust. C'mon Pullman, get your write on! Though there is still no release date for this book (it's not even finished), I am itching to read it, and the latest rumours are that it will be in two parts: one set before His Dark Materials, one set after.

***

So, it's not a long list, but to me these are the books that matter. Surrounding the reading next year will be a plethora of Kindle impulse buys and the remainder of the to-read pile from 2012! I hope you will come back for the reviews when these books are read and rated :)

What books are you looking forward to in 2013?
0

Mab on Romance - to love or not to love?

Stop the press! I have pre-ordered what can only be defined as a "romance novel" for my Kindle.

What's come over me? Perhaps I should visit a doctor... but I have to admit that I have been wholly swayed by reviews in order to make my decision. The book is The Bronze Horseman, the first part of a trilogy by Russian-born author Paullina Simons. I was initially attracted to the title as it is set in the second world war, amid Soviet and German unrest. I've previously read a lot of war novels - The Separation by Christopher Priest, The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak and Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks to name a few - and I make no secret of the fact I consider The Bridges Of Madison County to be the most moving (and possibly the only) romance book I have ever read and enjoyed.
If what I have read about The Bronze Horseman is to be believed, the book should encompass the best points of all of these books in one tome.

So how can I be so hypocritical of myself? What happened to my cold heart and apathy? Let's just say this... I am cynical. I have defeatist views on most things. I am feminist. I have "dark" tastes. I love ghosts. But I am not devoid of love. Most "romance" novels simply have the complete opposite ideals to those I uphold.

I can happily read Jane Austen's heroines fall in love, because their love is not easy, and often comes at a price. In that respect it feels real. Anne in Persuasion breaks her heart in order to please her family, only to wisen to the importance of her own happiness above others when it is almost too late. Pride and Prejudice's Elizabeth has to change her entire perspective on a man in order to love him while her sister Kitty's insta-love ends in family shame close to ruin.

I can fall through the pages of The Bridges of Madison County because although the situation is something of a bad erotica (man stops to ask for directions only to bed the woman in furious and animalistic fashion) the story is real, based on the findings of the lead characters own children. The book is written as a character study of forbidden, all encompassing desire, and not as the chick-lit quick-fix it's plot may fool you to believe. The ending is heart-wrenchingly painful for being so real in it's portrayal.

I can lavish in the love-triangle worlds of teen fiction because, let's face it, when were your teenage fantasies ever restricted to one object of attraction?! When youth presents you with so many options, and a "lasting" relationship probably isn't at the forefront of your mind, of course emotions may overlap. Of course, the dangerous option is attractive, and the boy/girl-next-door has welcoming familiarity. These things, I can read without an eye-roll because they are based in the real world.

What I can't abide is the following:
  • Instalove that is unquestioningly reciprocated
  • The "perfect" male/female
  • Mary Sues / Gary Stus
  • Weak female leads with no integrity ("oh of course Ill move in 2 weeks into our relationship! Coz it's, like, love!... what do you mean Ill have to sell my cat of 15 years? Oh ok, coz its LOVE!")
  • Pre-packed female stereotypes, for example: geek to goddess, blonde but brainy, quiet and lonely to in-love and successful, recently-lost-weight-but-still-insecure etc etc etc.
  • The sarcastic best friend cliche
  • "loves fixes everything" << probably the most infuriating.

Unfortunately, it's rare to find a romance book that does not include any of the above.

When, however, a romance novel strays into my established areas of interest (Second Glance and Her Fearful Symmetry being prime examples) I will of course give it a go. Ghostly romance? Yes please. Revengeful lovers from beyond the grave? Oh, go on then. Sparkly vampires who fall in love with high school chicks only to be threatened by werewolves? Ashamed to say, I even gave that one a go.
I am anything but exclusive!

So while I wouldn't place myself farther from being a romantic reader, I am not adverse to the entire genre. I simply find my beliefs on gender roles, equality and love tend not to match up with the vast majority of popular examples. (Ahem, 50 Shades... I'm glaring at you.)

I am looking forward to reading The Bronze Horseman. I hope to find it something akin to Atonement or The Visible World. I'll let you know in due course!

How do you feel about stereotypes and recurring themes in romantic novels? Do you feel empowered or diminished by them? Leave your comments below!



0

Mab on Horror

I recently discussed my love for ghost stories, and on my quest for new ghostly novels it is almost  inevitable that I will now and again stumble into horror genre territory.

Horror books are not high on the list of books I go looking for, but they're usually books I find "related to" books I've already enjoyed in website recommendations, or are crossovers of the psychological ghost story into horror themes. Sometimes ghosts and horror go hand in hand, and although I prefer the psycho-thiller types more than the graphic ones, I have read my fair share. And, yes... In more than a few instances, I have simply wanted to read a horror novel.


Unrelated to ghosts, but firmly sat on my shelf of favourite books is Hannibal by Thomas Harris. When discussing my favourite books with people the conversation will sometimes go something like this:

"So, what are your favourite books?"
"Oh, well, I like The Subtle Knife, Shadow of the Wind, Hannibal -."
"Hannibal?!"
"Mhmm..."
"What, you actually read that?!"

There is a strange thing that happens to people when they hear an adult woman openly admiting to reading certain things. In my case, I seriously think there is a judgement going on inside said co-conversationalist's head that is deciding whether or not I want to eat them. I'm not kidding. There's just this little hesitation before the next response (usually, "oh, right... so err, have you seen the film?") and their eyes widen slightly. Sometimes, they laugh.

I have recently discussed this with a couple of friends and some interesting things came up. For instance - Why are people held in high esteem for having been able to sit through the goriest/most visually controversial films (recently, The Human Centipede and Antichrist come to mind) yet those who choose to read things in the horror genre are considered of questionable taste?

I do NOT read Hannibal to satisfy an interest in human consumption, I read it because I actually consider it a great book, written beautifully considering the subject matter, and full of well developed (if dark) characters. The fact is, I hate girly novels full of fake representations of insta-love, dilemmas over a size 16-that's-really-a-12 ass and men described as "chiseled". I hate books where the sole plot revolves around a female's need to fill a void that is conveniently replaced by a man, no matter what the need is. I LIKE books that explore places my life will never travel, mentally and physically. I like escapism. I like character study and lyricism. I like dark themes because I'm a cynical b**** who spent 5 teenage years as a goth and never quite lost the love for deep red lace, Jack the Ripper conspiracies, ghosts and Victoriana. So yes, I choose to read horror now and then, and you know what, because I choose, I have (and stick to) a limit I'm comfortable with. Which is more than I can say for more "acceptable" films where the premise seems to be "the more shocking, the better".

So why do people judge differently when it comes to books? I have a couple of theories but if anyone else has any ideas, leave them in the comments below ;)

1. They know that writing gets into your psyche more than a quick Hollywood shock scene, and your ability to deal with that worries them.

2. They think you are exploring the possibility of doing whatever it is you're reading about.

3. They don't understand why you would put in the effort of reading a book when there's a film readily available, and they think the film tells them all they need to know about the book.

4. They've already read the book in question and hated it.

So this post has ended up a little rant-y, and I'm sorry about that. I just came up against a subject I don't quite understand ;) Next post: positive. I promise!

0

Rosemary's Baby - review

Let's just say, I'm not old enough to have been there the first (or perhaps even second?) time round. Rosemary's Baby was, to me, just one of those stories that you kind of knew without reading the book or seeing the famous film adaptation. It was like legend among my friends as children, when it was retold at sleepovers by the lucky/naughty few who had stayed up late with the babysitter one night and witnessed Mia Farrow's harrowed distress. It is a classic that has become almost a definition of it's genre. And it was about time I read it.

I'm so glad I did! What I had been missing out on all these years was a tense thriller of "is she?/isn't she?" madness and unexplained goings on, bustling with great characters. The edition I bought had an introduction by Chuck Palahniuk, and I think he was the perfect voice to set you up for the story that followed. (Not unfamiliar to a freaky story himself!)

When Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into "the Bram" block of apartments in New York, they do so despite warnings from their close friend Hutch, who tells them of a series of disturbing events (cannibalism, deaths, occult conjurings) that have occured at the apartments throughout history. The young couple put the stories of bad luck down to hearsay and coincidence, and begin their life at the Bram with much hope of starting a family. They meet their neighbours in the block - Mr and Mrs Castavet - and begin an unlikely friendship with the old couple, who they see almost as parent figures. They share dinners, chores and stories, and quickly get to know each others' circle of friends.
When Rosemary falls pregnant, however, she begins to suspect her neighbours' meddling intentions as something far more sinister: what is in the drinks Mrs Castevet keeps bringing her? Why is Rosemary being told the constant pain she is in is nothing? Why has Guy suddenly fallen into such unlikely good luck with his acting career?

In his introduction, Chuck Palahniuk describes how Rosemary's Baby brought horror to the normal lives of readers. No longer were these sinister goings on in a motel on the highway, or in a cabin in the woods. Now, they were on your doorstep, and they were after your baby. I agree with him that the genius of Rosemary's baby is in the everyday familiarity of it. I can imagine that in a time where such neighbourly community was common place, the horror at discovering they had dark secrets would have been unthought of!

***SPOILERS***

I think another sign of it's time though, was the ending. When the book was first published, the birth of Satan's child would have been fairly controversial - but reading it today, I felt it just a little bit ... camp. The description of the child felt cliched, the group mentality of the cult felt tired and the anagram of the name was of no suprise to me - but I have a feeling that is simply because this book spawned so many copy cats. I have to remember that this book came way before me, and far before anything else I have probably read on the theme.

***SPOILERS END***

Overall, Rosemary's Baby was a brilliant book to read. Highly recommended to those who don't yet know it, or who want to find a modern classic of the horror genre.
0

Underneath - review

Kealan Partick Burke... Now, where do you place this writer in the grand scheme of literature labels? While reading Underneath, I found myself asking this question more than once.

For a suprisingly short novella, Underneath packs in an incredibly dark story of vanity, reputation, peer pressure, bullying, guilt, destruction and manipulation. When the high school bully Freddy dares Dean to ask out the "scarred girl" Stephanie - who has facial burns from a fire - he does so only to avoid another beating so severe he "pees blood". As the date gets closer, Dean tries to get himself out of it, but is too much of a coward to admit the truth to Stephanie and hurt her feelings, and can't face the thought of another beating at the hands of Freddy.
Sat in the car with Stephanie on the Peer, Dean begins to see the girl that exists beneath the scars, and warms to her. Things swiftly move from one thing to the next... until the unthinkable happens. Freddy crashes the date in violent and humiliating fashion, leaving Dean with scars he will never be able to see past.

This book is currently FREE on Kindle, from Amazon - but be warned. The book comes with a clearly stated warning of violence and stong language... which leads me to the question: What kind of writer is Kealan Patrick Burke, exactly?

A high school setting would automatically assume itself YA status - until the violence of the story steps in, in a very adult manner... But this violence is directly related to teenage issues, so is it adult? The story's themes are adult, and the heaviness of the concepts of guilt and helplessness aren't that common to the YA genre, but when they are eminating from teenagers in direct response to "relationships" and "bullying", does this change things?

When reading Underneath, I came to a conclusion by the end: Kealan Patrick Burke wants to f*** with your head. If you're an adult, he wants you to worry about what your kids might be reading. If you're a teenager, he wants you to question yourself, and the good person you thought you were. After all, you chose to read this.

There is nothing "nice" about this book. There is no happy ending, the conclusion has an eerie lingering question you can't quite grasp, it's horrific in most ways. It's horror writing, and it's good horror writing - but do not be fooled by it's YA elements. It is probably anything BUT what you're expecting.

I have read Kealan Patrick Burke before (The Turtle Boy), and I would read more of his novels. I like the fact that he is so unpredicatable and it can't be denied that he has talent for gripping short stories that are truely dark at their very heart. I would not, however, recommend him. I think his stories have the ability to offend a good many people - and while I'm ok with being horrified, I won't make that decision for others.

Read at your own risk! haha
1

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox - review

The front cover of this book declares The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell "almost ridiculously pleasurable" - and I am inclined to agree with it.

Sisters Esme and Kitty move to Scotland from India as young girls, after the tragic death of their baby brother. While Kitty adapts to her new life admirably, Esme struggles to fit into Scottish ways and has little interest in the "proper" customs of courtship and expectations of women in the 1920s.

Esme becomes a wild child in the eyes of her parents, and an embarrassment to Kitty due to her controversial behaviour. When Kitty has her heart set on a young bachelor who falls for Esme instead, a wedge is driven between the sisters that lasts over sixty years.

Things come to a head when Esme is put into a mental institution at the hands of her parents. She is institutionalized not knowing it was Kitty's statement that sealed the deal, and also harboring a dark secret of her own.

60 years later, Iris learns that she has a great aunt due to be released from the local loony bin, and that she has been named as the next of kin. She has never heard of Esme - supposedly her grandmother Kitty's sister - but how can this be? When she visits Esme to find out more, a heartbreaking story of loss is unraveled.

I will admit that the premise of this novel sounds like a Catherine Cookson / Danielle Steel type book - but don't let this put you off. The story is beautifully written, well paced and pulls you into the polar worlds of the two sisters brilliantly. All the characters were believable and although dialogue was rare, what was said was important and I didn't feel the scarce conversation affected the pacing in a bad way.

If there was any detriment to the novel, I would say that it was the present tense the book is written in. The book is constantly time-shifting into different eras of the girls' lives - not denoted by any visual aid / new chapters etc. - and, due to the present tense, the fact that a time shift had occurred often came as a surprise midway through a topic. It's only a small gripe, but I found that it interrupted the flow of the story to be jolted into this realisation every now and then...

Overall I would highly recommend The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. It's a great book of characters, and shocking without being ludicrous. It often reminded me of Downton Abbey, if I can be forgiven for saying that(!) and I was a little sad when it ended - especially with the way events were left at the conclusion.

If you have read this book - why not leave your own thoughts in the comments?
0

Gifts for the bookish - him, her and the little monsters!

Struggling to find that perfect gift for a book lover? Last year, I earnestly tried to persuade the reluctant bibliophile into the technological ways of the e-reader, and I still fervently fight that battle! However, for those that listened - and those already comfortably e-reading - here are a few more ideas as Christmas makes it's marry way around to us again:

For her:


1. Owl Kindle skin - those with e-readers, I salute you!
2. Dracula pendant - literary jewellery for those of gothic persuasion
3. Spectacle frames- practical and fashionable <3 nbsp="nbsp" p="p">
4. Paperblanks journals- my favourite of all the "branded" notebooks
5. Reindeer cushion- To snuggle up with a book by the log fire (or radiator...)
6. Avid reader clock- Never enough time in the day!

For him: 
 1, Bronze Dragon Kindle skin- Who doesn't like a dragon?!
2. Reading light - Super stylish and functional
3. The Eagle of the Ninth - beautifully illustrated with gorgeous cover
4. Book ends - Shabby chic and perfect for the office
5. Pillars of the Earth DVDs - A wonderful book becomes one of the best TV series I've seen
6. Penguin classics pencils and mug - bringing a little inspiration to your work!


For the little monsters:
1. Gruffalo toy - huggable monsters!
2. Personalised Christmas book - Kids will love being the star of their own adventure
3. Woodland happy tree - possibly one of the priciest things you may ever buy your kid, but LOOK how cute it is!
4. Harry Potter audio books - Audio books are great before bed
5. Revolting recipes - A classic. Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake help your kids get culinary, in wonderful style!
6.Muppets Christmas Carol - I loved this film as a kid, and still do now. Family festive fun :)

I hope you have found some inspiration - leave any more ideas you have in the comments below!

0

Fracture - review

I am slowly reacquainting myself with "proper" YA fiction. Not the type that was written "for adults too", but the pure, teenage targeted, angst and emotion fuelled drama so familiar to my own teenage reading years. 

Fracture by Megan Miranda was the first of my rehabilitation, and it was a very good start.

17 year old Delaney Maxwell drowns in a frozen lake and wakes from a coma 6 days later, to discover she actually died for a short time when she was rescued. Pulled from the waters by her best friend and neighbour Decker, both struggle with the implications of what happened. Delaney should be dead. At the very least she should be severely brain damaged. But she seems fine, except for an inexplicable magnetism towards the dying. As she is drawn to situations of impending death, Delaney meets Troy - who seems to have awoken from a coma with the same attraction to the dying as her. As she struggles with her feelings towards her hero, Decker, and the person who seems to understand her new existence the most, Troy, Delaney is torn between the light and the darkness that her second chance offers.

I finished Fracture in 9 hours on trains to and from Leeds. It kept me entertained the entire way through. Well paced, mysterious and with brilliant characters, the book tackles some great issues while also providing romantic relief - YA gold.

My favourite "issue" portrayed in the book was the relationship between Delaney and her over-protective mother. I could see that the mother's actions were out of fear and love - having already "lost" her child once - and I felt Delaney's reactions to her mother were very honest and believable. The author created the characters with a great sympathy and it really came across well. Delaney also didn't hate her parents - a trap a lot of YA seems to fall to - but disagreed with their treatment of her and rebelled. However, throughout the book, she also came to empathise with her mum. She was simply having teenage reactions to normal parenting. It was subtle, but it made such a difference to the story.

I also enjoyed the romance element of the story (*gasp!*) and I think this was because although it was important, it wasn't central to the plot, and again it felt very honest and unforced.

I wholly recommend this book to any Young Adult fiction fans. Unchallenging but thought provoking, the book is a great read and will definitely be a good companion on these windy, wet , winter days.
0

The Small Hand - Review

Susan Hill, ghost story author = Mab, excited reader.

I love The Woman in Black, in all it's representations. It's such a "classic" modern ghost story. It's got all the right elements, in all the right places. Scares, story and sentiment. The Small Hand, sadly, didn't quite live up to it's greatness, but it was everything a ghost story should be.

Adam is a man who helps rare book collectors acquire their conquests. While on his way back from meeting his favourite client he takes a wrong turn on a country lane and encounters The White House, looking for someone to ask for directions. Dilapidated and set in acres of overgrown garden, The White House stands forgotten - or so Adam thinks, as he explores beyond the gate, until the ghost of a child's hand holds his own.
Adam becomes obsessed with the house and the hand, until he begins to get the urge to throw himself into deep water, or over cliffs... Much like his brother Hugo once did before him.

This ghost story is packed with intense moments, great descriptions and intriguing characters. I enjoyed the settings both in the UK and in France, and the "unexplained" parts of the tale were clever and didn't feel like cop outs (mostly... more on that in a sec!)
The Small Hand is part of a set of novellas, and I feel the story worked well in the shorter format. The action was well paced and the narrative was simple but effective.

But! Yes, I'm always weighing up the "buts", sorry!

But... I felt the writing itself was a little confusing. I found myself asking more than once whether the story was a retelling of events from the narrator, or whether the action was currently happening. I also wasn't sure of the time period at a number of points. At the beginning of the book I considered it to be the early 1900-esque era of The Woman In Black, but later we are introduced to the existence of e-mail and voicemail. It was these facts that held The Small Hand back from being as affecting as The Woman In Black, in my opinion.

Another small (very small!) gripe I had with the book was that Hugo's motives for his "act" as a boy were never told. It brought a bit of a plot-hole to his character, which until then had been very intriguing. Bit of a shame.

I would recommend The Small Hand to lovers of ghost stories, but to newbies to Susan Hill, I would suggest starting with The Woman in Black.
0

The House at Midnight - Review

**Warning, this review contains spoilers - I'll let you know when they're about to appear**

Lucie Whitehouse's The House at Midnight is a book in the much-alluded-to vein of The Secret History. It's a book about a close-nit group of university friends and oppressive settings. It is a book concerned with the strain of friendships, relationships and the secrets of families. It embraces art, and culture, and historical pretences. In a strange way, it is a book so similar to The Secret History it's almost painful to see how far it misses the mark...

Lucas is the inheritor of a grand house in Stoneborough when his uncle Patrick commits suicide under mysterious circumstances. To help him cope with being alone in such an enormous place, and his raw emotions, Lucas' group of friends rally round him every weekend at the house - to live in it's splendour and enjoy the grandeur of a private country life and each others' company. The place becomes an escape - a summer paradise - until tensions become evident among the group.

Danny loses his high-positioned job, and begins having secret relationships with members of the group - male and female; luring them into his world and then breaking their hearts while noone else is any the wiser. Jo is falling in love with her friend Rachel's boyfriend, Greg, while starting a new relationship with her own best friend, Lucas; at the same time she is noticing a hateful attitude towards her in Danny. Lucas is drinking far too heavily - much like his estranged, dead father - and bailing Danny out of thousands of pounds of debt with his inheritance money.

All the time, Patrick's suicide looms over the group, much like the fresco painting in ceiling of the house's entrance hall: a mythical Greek representation of Zeus and the goddesses that Jo becomes fascinated by. She soon comes to realise the painting is not mythical at all, but that it depicts real people. History seems to be repeating itself...

As everything comes to a head, The House At Midnight is gripping. I was looking forward to the revelations, the fallout of the friends' actions... but this never quite arrived. The crescendo of this book is about 150 pages from it's end, and if I'm very honest, I wish it had drawn a quick conclusion right there.

Claustrophobic portrayals of houses, emotional tensions, betrayals, secrets and sex should all add up to a tense mystery thriller, but The House at Midnight seems to end on something of a sparkler, rather than the catastrophic bang I thought it was building up to. I feel that a lot of this has to do with the confusing characterisation of Danny.

**Spoilers start here**

Danny, it turns out, is the key character in this book. All the while, the serial dating, cougar-catching, film making, gold-digging Danny was supposedly so over-wrought with obsessive love, jealousy and desire for Lucas, he was murderous. Who knew?! I think it was meant to be a twist - I certainly never suspected it, but I also think the denoument was poorly executed for this fact. It just didn't seem to fit the Danny we had read about for the last 200 or so pages...

To add to the out-of-the-blue "revelation" of Danny's dark intent, he is never actually seen in the last part of the book. We are simply told by a dying Greg that Danny gave Lucas a gun, and manipulated him with poisonous words into shooting Greg. We are told that Danny had been brainwashing Lucas in his vulnerable greiving state, with the ultimate intention of this murderous act... We are told he loved Lucas too much and wanted him to himself...But there, the book ends! We are never shown anything. Danny is never found - he simply "ran away". Greg dies, Lucas is also found dead... Danny is gone, and the author probably thought not tying up that loose end left something or other for the reader to conclude. Gosh, it was lost on me, I'm sorry... I seriously thought a chapter was missing from my book.

**Spoilers end here**

Something else I found confusing in the book was the house. It was described well, physically, but it was the non-physical descriptions I was unsure of... Jo hears a "heartbeat" in the house, a thumping beat that keeps her awake and panics her while she is there. She also continually mentions the feeling of a "presence". She recognises the way being in the house changes the way the people around her behave.

Anyone who knows me and my books, will understand why this had my interest perked - ghosts! However, though there were clues that alluded to a ghost, or of some sort of imprint on the house, it was all forgotten in favour of the Danny storyline (for which, I say again, there was no allusion to!) It seemed a confusing waste of effort to bring a haunting to a house that has no part in the story?

Speaking of concerted effort in details that come to nothing - Jo's asthma. She was puffing away on her inhaler so often (and so jarringly in the flow of whatever was going on - as if to make a point) I felt damned sure an asthma attack would be a key part of the narrative. But alas, she just had asthma... that's "characterisation" folks: she has A FLAW!

All in all - I really enjoyed The House At Midnight all the way up until about 2/3rds of the way through. I felt it lost it's way at the end, and that the official "end" of the book was frustrating and unnecessary. I'm not sure that I would recommend this book to anyone, as it skirted too much around different ideas and never quite settled on one, so I wouldn't in fact know who to recommend it to! It is dark in subject matter, and it creates quite a tense atmosphere until the final party and the resulting action. I guess if I have interested you in the story you should definitely read it, as I would love to knwo what you think!!! Leave comments below :)
2

Mental images come to life

Last weekend, I went exploring in my new city and came across a beautiful mansion. I thought I would feature it on the blog, as it reminded me of the kind of place described in so many of the books I like to read. It was a little bit "Austen". A little bit... whimsical. We had stumbled across Ashton Court; a mansion house settled in a 850 acre estate of deer parks, woodland and gardens (including 2 pitch and putt golf courses!)

We had ventured out of the city centre into the country on a brilliant, very Autumnal day. The colours were gorgeously rich as we made our way through the trees - bright evergreen and oranges and reds that burnt brightly againt a crisp sapphire sky. We climbed a few hills, navigated a few fences and then suddenly we came across this view:


In an instant I knew exactly where I wanted to be - On the doorstep of that house, overlooking the whole of Bristol! The place reminded me of Downton Abbey - or how I had envisioned Pemberley the first time I read Pride and Prejudice before seeing the BBC adaptation.

It was a really lovely building, and I'll definitely be visiting again. There's a cute cafe inside, and a market held in the grounds at weekends. I know that I will see this house in my mind the next time a pick up a period novel. Perhaps if I make my way here on Halloween it can also become my go-to mental image for haunted houses too?!

Here's a picture of me getting a little bit silly in the gardens. *Queue hair "swish" moment!*



0

Spooks and Scares for Halloween

Planning to scare your friends around the campfire this Halloween? Well then, how about some inspiration for creating your spookiest ghost story yet?

Ghost stories are my favourite genre of book, and ever since my first sleepover at a friends house - where we scared ourselves silly with tales of murderous possessed dolls, killers in the attic and phantom escasped convicts -  I have delighted in the spine-chilling paranoia a well-told ghost story can bring. (Especially when there are torch-in-face type situations to be telling them in!)

There have been many great ghost stories through literature: The Turn of the Screw, A Christmas Carol, The Woman in Black.. even Macbeth had a few ghosts pop up. Though not all of the ghosts in them are terrifying, blood-thirsty, revenge fuelled apparitions, they do leave a trace of their supernatural upon you. A well told ghost story is not necessarily a horror... it is a creeping, lingering, seemingly innocent tale with undertones that don't quite make themselves known to you until you are alone.. in the dark... and left with nothing but your own imagination. Suddenly the tragedy of a girl with an infectious smile becomes a force of its own. The smile is manic, you notice teeth are missing, her hair is just far too perfect to be right!

So, when you take the torch and focus the beam of light onto your own face this October 31st; as you launch into your own tale of spookiness... do so with these tips gleaned from some of my favourite ghost stories:
  • Children are scary. They just are. Double up the spookiness and make them identical twins ;) 
  • Avoid the cliches but dont ignore the established standards! A haunted house = standard. Doors closing of their own accord = cliche. It's a fine line!
  • There doesn't have to be blood. Create the right atmosphere and build the suspense, and a sneeze will have your audience screaming!
  • "And it turns out they were dead all along" has been killed by The Sixth Sense. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
  • Bring an element of truth to the story. Anchor it into a world people relate to and the scares will seem far more real in those "alone in the dark" moments. Think "my grandad once told me..." etc.
Have fun scaring, and leave your own top tips in the comments if you have some!




(All photos are my own)


0

NANOWRIMO 2012

Hands up everyone, who's up for an insane, near-impossible challenge? 50,000 words in a month.

Ok, that's more than a little melodramatic, I'll admit, but my previous experience of National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo) is exactly what you just imagined it to be like!  It's something a writer will put themselves through because somewhere deep inside, they want that challenge. They want to prove to themselves, to the world no less, that they can do it. But, actually, doing it is the hardest, most hand-wrenching, head-banging process you can imagine... and you spend they entire month going "WHY, GOD, WHY? WHY DID I THINK I COULD DO THIS?!" as you stare at the miles of 50,000 words left to go and the glaring white screen of a blank page in Microsoft Word. You write, you curse, you write more, you drink another 2 cups of coffee, and write even more. You go to work, you spend the time thinking about the day's word target you've yet to meet (plus the target from yesterday you missed and carried over to today), you go home, rush a sandwich, write, curse, write, coffee, write, work... so on, so on... Then you reach December... and you start planning for the next one!

It's pretty masochistic. And guess what - I'm giving it another go! (hahaaa) My last attempt didn't quite meet the heady heights of 50,000 words, so in that respect I failed. However, what I did hit December with was a collection of 36,000-something words of an actual story. And that felt good!

Although I will be going in with a target of 50,000 words in the spirit of Nanowrimo, I think I'm going to remove any pressure from myself to hit daily word counts this time round. Worrying just made my writing worse. I'm going to write something every day of November, and if it's just a sentence, it's just a sentence. So what? The next day, I might write the "target" and more! Nanowrimo 2012 is going to be a more of a "flow" for me than 2011. I hope I'll beat last year's word count at the end of the event, but mostly I hope I'll be even happier with what I've produced.

Last year, I ended up writing mush that I didn't even recognise as my own, just so that I wrote 2000 words a day. So, having learnt from the experience, here are my new guidelines for 2013. Why don't you join me in this madness and see how we all do?

NANOWRIMO 2012
  • Write every day (it is nanowrimo, after all)
  • Have a PLAN (big mistake from last year = writing on a whim)
  • Sequence doesn't matter (I fell into the trap of writing in a linear way last year, and just hit blocks constantly. If I want to write the last scene when I'm only just done with the first, I will)
  • Be a bit of a hippy (sometimes, a bullet point list, a poem or a letter will seem more attractive than yet another pargagraph of prose. As long as it tells the story, I'm going to take whatever I fancy. I can align it all into one format in the 11 months of editing I've got coming up!)
  • Enjoy it! (if I start resenting the screen, the pen, the characters, I'll stop. It's not worth slowly beginning to hate the thing I enjoy the most)
So that's it. Thats my prelim. Is anyone else taking part in NANOWRIMO this year? Have you got any tips?!
0

The Prisoner of Heaven - Review

This weekend, I treated myself to something I knew would be worth the wait: I read the third installment of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's "Barcelona Quartet": The Prisoner of Heaven.

I had pre-ordered this book back in June, and although it arrived on release day I put it on a shelf, and I waited... I waited until I reached a stage in the "reading cycle" where I had lost all hope in ever finding a beautiful book. Frequent readers are probably familiar with this slump. The fact is, not all books are going to be as good as the last... and sometimes the downward spiral seems like it might never end. At that point, I suggest to each and every one of you that you keep a Zafon novel on stand by, to rescue you from these dark times.

It was in such a moment that I decided that the weekend would be THE weekend.

The Prisoner Of Heaven is a sequel to The Shadow Of The Wind and a prequel and sequel to The Angel's Game (yes I know, just go with it...) It once again sees the reader reunited with the Sempere family and their bookshop, and their quick-witted friend Fermin. Daniel Sempere is now grown - married to Bea and father to a child - and Fermin is planning his own wedding to Bernarda. However, he is in uncharacteristicly low spirits about it. When a sinsiter stranger with one hand buys the most expensive edition of The Count of Monte Cristo from the bookshop, and inscribes it with a cryptic message to Fermin, Daniel starts to investigate his friend's bitter mood. As Daniel prys the truth from Fermin, the story of the Prisoner of Heaven is revealed...

Fermin recounts to Daniel a dark part of his (previously witheld) history, and confides in him a reason as to why he feels he cannot marry Bernarda. Having spent years in Monjuic Prison under a false identity, he was certified dead after a daring stunt. "Fermin" doesn't exist to the world, but it is the man his wife is in love with.

To say anything more about the story of The Prisoner Of Heaven, would be to ruin it for those who haven't yet read it, so I will leave the synopsis there. However, without spoiling the narrative, I can tell you that there are no end of "ohhhh!" moments as plot lines from the previous two novels begin to weave together. And they do so deliciously! I would wholly recommend refreshing yourself on The Shadow of The Wind, and in particular The Angel's Game, before reading The Prisoner of Heaven. It will make those "ohhhh!" moments all the more revealing!

As with all of Zafon's novels, the writing style is beautiful, lyrical and unpretentious. The author has an eerie talent for giving you a complete roundup of a character in a single paragraph, at which point you feel like you know them completely. Valls is a prime example. I read a paragraph of no more than 6 sentences about his "Sunday sermons" and I instantly disliked him, knew his arrogance and was a little bit fearful of his power. It's an incredible art, really...

I can barely contain myself for the release of the final novel of this quartet. So many questions hang in the air at the close of Prisoner of Heaven, and I am sure there will be answers to them all at the end of the wait. However, I'm yet to finda predicted publish date for the finale, I can only hope that it is not too far away!

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is an author I always find a joy to read, and I hope that many of you will be tempted by one of his novels and dicover the same. I cannot recommend The Prisoner of Heaven enough, but I wouldn't recommend that you start here. Newbies to Zafon should grab a copy of The Shadow Of The Wind and spend a Winter weekend with nothing but the lush vision of Barcelona Zafon creates. Once you're under the spell, I'm sure I'll meet you at the end of Prisoner Of Heaven, desperate for the final part!

1

VIII - the review

Another Tudor novel! Woohoo! And this time, there's demons involved...

VIII is a young adult novel that tells the story of Henry VIII's life from his childhood to his death. However, what makes this story different from the rest is that Henry is haunted by the vision of a deathly thin boy with pools of black for eyes, who quivers, cries and begs for comfort. Henry begins to see this boy as an omen - one who warns of still born children, who warns him of witchcraft and who, ultimately, claims him to death.

I thought the premise of the book was really interesting. I liked that for much of the book, Henry was "Hal". This made you as the reader forget what you already knew of Henry VIII, and see him as a "new" character. I also liked the supernatural element as an inventive way of explaining many of Henry's famously documented actions that remain, in the most part, unexplained.

The author, H M Castor, is a historian, and as such there are great descriptions of jousting and sword-fight tournaments, in-depth political positionings and squeamish accounts of Henry's leg wound. There is also, I noticed, a lot of attentioned paid to cloth, which is actually a bit strange!

VIII is an unchallenging read that I very much enjoyed, but I couldn't help but feel Henry's visions were just not enough to really set this novel apart fom others in the genre. I liked that Henry was the main focus of the book, not his wives, and Castor's interpretation of him from an over-loved child to a heartless King was well concieved. BUT, it followed a path we all know, at a pace that left little room for anticipation. It was a little off-kilter to say the least. 80% of the book surrounds the marraige periods of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn (undoubtedly the most prolific wives, it's true) but then 4 more marraiges are crammed into 20% - and it feels a bit rushed. For instance, Henry is married and divorced from Anne of Cleves, and already married again to Katherine Howard, in all of 4 pages!

All in all, VIII is well worth a read for fans of the Tudor court genre - if only for an insight into Henry's childhood, which was very much the best part of the book for me. Considering this was another 99p bargain on Kindle, it was much more than I expected it to be and definitely worth the price paid!
0

The art of bookmarks - an endangered species!

E-readers are great. They're efficient: light, small, adaptable, and now pretty cheap to boot. As more and more people buy Kindles, Kobos and the like, however, I do wonder the fate of reading "accessories". Bookmarks, for example.

I love bookmarks. Over my reading years, I have built up quite a collection - I've even kept and used the free bookmarks sent with charity marketing letters (you know the ones, they came with free pens too!)  I've had card ones, leather ones, lenticular ones (my favourite of these being an "Animorphs" bookmark - remember those?!) metal ones, paper-clippy ones... The list goes on. Every book I owned had its own unique placeholder! My most favourite bookmark is one I still use today: a Mucha print bookmark I bought in Prague.

Obviously, e-readers remove the need for placeholders. I think it's quite a shame, as accessorising the pages of a book with a little slip of art was quite satisfying...However! The are situations where an ebook is not practical (to me, anyway!) and a bookmark may be needed. Marking recipes in cookbooks for later... highlighting products that catch your eye in catalogues... marking photos/pictures for reference or inspiration in an art book... There is still life for these creations!

If you feel the same, and want to continue prettifying your reads with beautiful bookmarks, then I would like to show you some wonderful options currently available to buy from around the internet. If someone you know already has an e-reader, why not surprise them with a "vintage" gift? Pop down to your local market an find a gorgeous, peeling, faded hardback novel and give it new life by accessorising it with a lovely bookmark.

Let's not let the bookmark become extinct!


These wonderful festive bookmarks will be sold by Jules just in time for Christmas.


Beautiful Kimono designs by Rena Callan will brighten any page, available on Etsy.


Adorable personalised Harry Potter bookmarks givea special touch, by PaintedbyRenee


This quirky Mad Hatter protects your place - from Beth Yates


and... This bookmark was just too true to leave out! From BookFiend
0

Touching the Void - Review

Non-fiction, and specifically autobiography, is a new genre for me. I've been dabbling in it lately, having read Caitlin Moran's How To Be a Woman, and Marilyn Manson's The Long Hard Road Out of Hell (a teenage nostalgia!) However, Joe Simpson's Touching The Void is the first autobiographical novel I have read without having previous experience of the author. I chose to read Touching The Void based on the story alone.

I first noticed my dad reading the book on our recent trip to America. It's very rare to see my dad with a book, so I asked him about it. He told me it was about a climber who shattered his leg close to the summit of a mountain. He then continued to tell me of how "amazing" he found it (my dad does not use superlatives lightly) and how "unbelievable" it was that a human could undergo so much and survive to tell the tale.
I was intrigued. Mountain climbing is not something I am necessarily interested in, but then it's nothing my dad is interested in either and he was hooked! I asked if I could borrow the book when he was finished. It turned out I had to wait a few months, because my dad was so eager to share it with others, he had forgotten about me! However, I have finally read it, and here is what I thought:

Touching the Void is an inspirational recount of human survival against ridiculous odds.

When Joe and his climbing partner Simon reach the summit of Siula Grande, Peru in the 90's, having climbed the West Face, they achieve something no one has ever done before. When Joe takes a disastrous fall soon after, however, everything changes and they face the possibility that no one may ever know they made it. As their luck turns, both men stare death in the face - both literally and metaphorically - and display human endurance as "unbelievable" as my dad testified.
Joe's leg literally breaks in two on his fall, and though Simon lowers him through the night on 300ft of rope towards base camp, he soon faces a moral dilemma it is hard to imagine: Unable to walk, and half way through a "lower", Joe hangs on the end of a rope attached to Simon above an abyss, as an avalanche pushes Simon closer towards the edge of a ledge. Does Simon save himself, by cutting the rope at his waist to be free of the already-doomed and injured Joe? Or does he stay attached, holding Joe but fated to fall over the edge to join him?

I wont tell you what he chooses, if you don't already know, but the resulting story is gripping.

Image from Wikipedia

Initially, I found reading Touching The Void a bit of a struggle. I found I didn't like Joe, and thought him a little arrogant. That soon changed however, as I realised his head-strong attitude is probably what saved him. It even began to endear him at the hardest parts of his journey.
The second struggle I had was that I wasn't a climber. Joe tells his story in a very uncomrimising slew of mountaineering terms without explaination of what they mean. This is probably what made me think him "arrogant" at the beginning. Once I had taken the time to Google a "belay plate", a "col" and "moraines", however, the story began to flow more for me.
The third struggle was in coming back to the book after a break. Re-establishing myself in the story took longer than any other book, due to the similarity of all the situations the climbers experience. Which crevasse were they on? Where were they during this storm? Was this ice cliff a decent or a traverse?

Once these small obstacles of the book were overcome, Touching The Void became inspiring. Never again will I look at the amount of things I need to achieve in a day and feel it's impossible!!

The most interesting part of Touching The Void, for me, was the retelling of the emotion at certain points in the journey. The way the climbers felt about death, injury and about each other. How Joe welcomed danger amounting to death, but couldn't face suicide. The way achievements were not truly felt until the moment had passed, and they looked back at where they had come.

Touching The Void is an eye-opening insight to the world of mountain climbing, and a book to give anyone the motivation to Keep Going.

There is a film that was made of this book - I now have it on my "to watch" list.


0

Do you Like Mab is Mab?

I have just finished setting up a Facebook Page for Mab is Mab, so why not go on over, have a read, and give it a big shiny thumbs up if you like it? I plan for it to be a more real-time experience of my reading and blogging, while the blog will continue to hold opinions, reviews, features and musings. So not much will change really - Mab is Mab on Facebook will just give you even more to get involved with :)

I also plan to use the Facebook page in order to hold a virtual Book Club. I've had a few people show interest and thought I would give it a go and see where it all ends up. If you never try you'll never know, right? If it sounds like something you might like to be involved with, "like" the page and send a message expressing your interest. Hopefully it can kick off soon.


0

Coffee table books

The coffee table book is an odd realm between art and function. No-one reads a coffee table book, they "peruse" it. Most of the time it's too big to hold, too heavy to sit comfortably with. Beautiful, bold, bulky things. Books to wear down, wear out as you fumble through the pages roughly. Books to inspire, uplift and - consiously or not - say something about who you are.

Since I have moved house, I have been thinking about the kind of coffee table book I would like in my living room. I would want it to inspire me on every page - in case I only perused to view one of them. It would probably be a photography book. I would want it to have words too, though. Little snippets. I wouldn't want it to be a cliche... I'd maybe like to learn something on the off-chance too!

I have a few books already that I would consider to be of the "coffee table" genre, but not ones I would put out. Kurt Cobain's Journals, Cosmos, Dita Von Teese's The Art of Burlesque, "The Art Of" Batman, 300 and Sweeny Todd. All of them great pick-a-page time fillers but all of them speaking to a part of me that I probably don't advertise - or expect guests to deal with, at any rate!

   

So I have been browsing Amazon for some new things and have drawn up a number of potential table residents.

Here is the shortlist:

   
 

But I wonder if there are any suggestions out there? What coffee table books do you own and display? What do you look for in a coffee table book?

0