Book Reviews





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?


Merry Christmas to all my lovely readers!

Hope to see you back here in 2013! x


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?


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?

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!


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 -."
"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!