Friday, 29 March 2013

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

Right from the start I would like to say that this is one of my favourite books of all time. It makes me smile, it makes me cry and it gives me shivers. It’s no secret that I am a little obsessed with fairytales, and I think the re-workings of some well known fairytales in this book are some of the most imaginative I've come across so far. 

The story tells of twelve year old David, who is mourning the loss of his mother and is incredibly lonely after his father moves him into a new house with his new wife and baby son. With his father often absent at work, and with any excuse not to be near his unwanted stepmother and half brother, David finds solace in his books, which have now started to whisper to him. 

Then, following his dead mother’s voice down into the sunken garden, David is transported to a terrifyingly real world, inhabited by characters and creatures from the stories and myths from his books. This new world is dangerous and David must use all his wits to avoid the perils and find his way back home. 

I loved that there were stories within the stories, and all were filled with fantastical versions of fairytale characters. I particularly liked the sinister Crooked Man who skulks between the pages, stalking David between worlds and making mischief. The Book of Lost Things is an enchanting adventure; action packed and bloody at times, but heart warming and hopeful as well. I wholeheartedly recommend this dazzling novel to anyone who has yet to read it and especially to fairytale enthusiasts like me. 

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Modesty Blaise: The Girl in the Iron Mask by Peter O'Donnell and Enric Badia Romero

First things first, for those of you that are new to Modesty Blaise (like I was before reading this); here is a quick introduction. Modesty stories originally appeared as comic strip cartoons in the London Evening Standard in the 1960s. Created by Peter O’Donnell, the stories have had worldwide success, including a film and TV version of the character, and a current serialisation on BBC Radio 4. Hailed as the female James Bond, Modesty Blaise is sexy, intelligent, rich and super cool; taking out the bad guys in pure style. 

Modesty Blaise: The Girl in the Iron Mask is the latest in Titan’s archival series featuring some newly collected strips and with art from long-serving Modesty artist Enric Badia Romero. Three tales make up this kick-ass volume; Fiona, Walkabout and The Girl in the Iron Mask. 

In Fiona, when Modesty travels to Asia to volunteer at a struggling hospital, she finds herself facing up to an old adversary who is manufacturing illegal drugs in the area. Then, in Walkabout, Modesty enlists the help of Aboriginal friends to help bring Mafia mobsters to justice in Australia. Finally, in the title story, Modesty is forced to endure a terrible ordeal at the hands of twin madmen and must use all of her skills to get out alive. Modesty Blaise is truly an extraordinary heroine; sassy and glamorous, as well as touch and capable in the face of danger. 

In this volume, each story has an excellent introduction from Modesty Blaise expert Lawrence Blackmore which set the scenes perfectly. The artwork is exceptional and fits the storylines handsomely, what with all the exotic locations and the stunning figure of Modesty herself. Whether you love classic British comics, enjoy crime thrillers or are new to all of the above, Modesty Blaise is an unforgettable character and the graphic novels of her exploits are definitely worth a look.

Paperback £11.99  ISBN: 9780857686947

Monday, 25 March 2013

A Dreadful Murder by Minette Walters

A Dreadful Murder is based on a real life murder that happened more than 100 years ago. In Kent, in the August of 1908, Mrs Caroline Luard was shot dead in broad daylight whilst on the grounds of a country estate. 

She was a well known woman who worked with poor charities in the local community and was married to Major-General Charles Luard, who was a County Councillor and a Justice of the Peace. With very little evidence to go on, her husband was labelled the main suspect and so Minette Walters skilfully draws together the characters to try and solve the crime. 

Throughout the story we meet a range of characters that highlight the divisions of the time; policemen and criminals, rich and poor. It details the police lines of inquiry of the tine and there is also a little of early forensics which I always like. 

A Dreadful Murder is part of the Quick Reads set. It is shorter than a standard fiction book and is easier to read but still has the awesome content that will keep you turning pages. Whether you are already a voracious reader, or you are looking to read more, then this is a great crime fiction read from a best-selling author.  For more information about Quick Reads check out my post about the literary charity and the other excellent books they have available. 

Friday, 22 March 2013

Sky Song by Sharon Sant

Teenager Jacob Lightfoot thought he had been living a seemingly normal life for the past fifteen years, until his world is turned upside down with the appearance of a mysterious stranger. He learns that the life he has been living has been a lie and with his new identity there comes not only power but unimaginable danger to himself and the people he cares about most. 

Jacob, with his colour-changing eyes, finds himself embroiled in the power struggle of an ancient race and his fate is wrapped up in that of another world’s whether he likes it or not. As he fights to come to terms with his newly discovered destiny, he is also attempting to keep hold of his normal life; attending school and hanging out with his best friends Ellen and Luca. 

The story centres around Jacob’s normal life with visits into his otherworldly future, and the crossovers between the two highlight the peril he faces and the sacrifices he will have to make, which is all very exciting to read. I love the idea of Jacob’s colour changing eyes, dependent on how he is feeling. It kind of reminds me of those colour change mood rings you could get years ago! I liked his relationship with his friends in the story and how they get caught up in his unwanted adventure. It will be interesting to see how the characters develop over the series. 

Sky Song is the first book in The Sky Song trilogy and more information about the books and other literary goodness can be found on Sharon Sant’s interesting blog. I thought this was entrancingly written, with a nice balance of sci-fi, drama and realism, and is overall a terrific story. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Wolf Girls edited by Hannah Kate

Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny

I've always liked the idea of female werewolves. They are usually portrayed as strong, fierce, sometimes spiritual women who break free of constraints of supposed femininity and yet are still all woman.

Elena Michaels from Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series is probably my favourite she-wolf from literature. From film it would be Ginger from the cult Canadian horror Ginger Snaps. This book, Wolf Girls, feature seventeen stories that are all varied in their portrayals of lycogyny. 

The definition of lycogyny is the assumption by women of the form and nature of wolves. In this book there are werewolves, more traditional wolves, wild women and animal desires; not all of which triggered by an iconic full moon. Some of the she-wolves are fully functioning members of society; mothers, friends, even a seemingly innocuous librarian! Others are savage, giving in to their primal urges. It is interesting to read how each main character deals with the individual situations they are faced with. Do you hold the beast in and cope as a human? Or should you give way to the animal inside?  

As well as the stand alone stories, there is an awesome introduction that includes a brief history of female werewolves, which I found hugely interesting and was the perfect way to precede the tales. For a unique collection of supernatural stories with a strong female focus, Wolf Girls should go straight on your reading list.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Shakespeare on Toast by Ben Crystal

My fascination with Shakespeare began when I was in primary school. A drama company came to my school and did a workshop and performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In part of the workshop I got to play the part of Bottom, the unfortunate actor who gets his head turned into that of a donkey. I remember having a lot of fun that day, and being mesmerized by the professionals’ performance. 

Then in secondary school, I studied Macbeth and later on Romeo and Juliet for English. Now, I love the English language, and have always enjoyed many forms of literature but when you are forced to pore over every sentence and structure of a Shakespeare play, it tends to lose some of it’s magic. 

Shakespeare on Toast is an extremely accessible way of approaching Shakespeare. It reminds us that his works were originally written to be acted out rather than read as a story as I was lead to believe in school. This book isn't a preachy, patronising tome about the great bard, but it doesn't dumb it down either. The tone is just right; being humorous, intelligent and witty in all the right places. 

It covers a bit of history (I found the witchcraft bit very interesting) and explores Elizabethan events and events from Shakespeare’s personal life that help give some of his works some context. The book also looks at Elizabethan language and the structures of Shakespeare’s writing that provides helpful hints to understanding the plays better. Overall I thought that this was a fascinating insight into the works of Shakespeare, told with inspiring enthusiasm and entertaining wit, perfect for both budding and reluctant students of Shakespeare. 

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Secret Supper Club by Dana Bate

Hannah Sugarman has a serious passion for food. In between her day job as a financial research assistant, she loves nothing more than baking something delicious and dreaming of becoming a caterer. However, no one takes her seriously, namely her parents and her boyfriend. 

When Hannah’s relationship finally fails she moves home and renews her love of cooking by hosting a secret supper club with her best friend Rachel. Despite the success of the supper club, Hannah is faced with numerous problems; she is running it from her landlord’s flat without permission, keeping it a secret from her academic parents and she may be breaking the law. The food is a hit and she meets a variety of interesting people but it is only a matter of time before she is found out. 

I enjoyed Hannah’s enthusiasm for food and cooking, and the personal history behind her menus for the supper club. I thought her character was loveable and crazy in equal parts and you can’t help but want to find out what trouble her impulsive behaviour will get her into next! This is a very uplifting story all about food, friends and family. Amusing and heart-warming, The Secret Supper Club is a must read for foodie fans.

At the back of the book is a selection of delectable recipes that Hannah serves in the story. I had a go at making the Smoked Gouda Grilled Cheese with Caramelized Asian Pears. Now I know my way around the kitchen, but I've never caramelized anything in my life. Nevertheless my attempt at this turned out fine and was quite delicious, even if I cheated a little and used pears from Kent instead! 

Smoked Gouda Grilled Cheese with Caramelized Pears

Monday, 11 March 2013

New World Fairy Tales by Cassandra Parkin

Set in modern day America, New World Fairy Tales are re-imaginings of some of The Brothers Grimm’s famous tales. They are told in the form of interviews, collected by an anonymous student recording the diverse life stories of strangers. 

The book covers a whole range of American settings including the Louisiana bayou, the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, and cities such Los Angeles and New York. As yet I've never personally been to America so I enjoyed being transported to these locations through the imaginative storytelling and each was well suited to the tale it played host to. 

The stories explore a number of moral issues and aspects of human experience within the plot lines, such as romance, addiction and justice to name but a few; all of which are fascinating when partnered with the fairytale theme. If I had to pick a favourite it would probably be the last tale. The interviewee is a straight talking, stripping dwarf with a heart of gold and for me, was my favourite character of the whole book. A close second however was the cosmopolitan retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk, set in the finance district of New York. 

If you've read this I would love to know if you had a favourite too! Some of the fairytales each interview is based on are easy to guess, other are quite hard – there are a couple I'm still not sure about! If you are a traditionalist when it comes to The Brothers Grimm then this may not be the book for you.  However if you are open minded to artistic retellings of old favourites, or just enjoy unique short stories, then you should definitely give this a try!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Sixth Soul by Mark Roberts

In London, four pregnant women have been abducted and killed, and a fifth woman has just been taken from her own home. The press have nicknamed the brutal serial killer Herod, his motives for such heinous crimes unknown.

DCI David Rosen is leading the investigations, but is struggling to balance his work commitments with his personal life, and after the fifth abduction, time is against him. Then Rosen gets an unexpected phone call from the enigmatic Father Sebastian Flint, a priest who seems to know far too much about the abductions. Rosen learns that Father Flint is an expert in the occult and has something of a dark past himself.

As the killer increases his pace, Rosen struggles to work with what little evidence he has, as well as dealing with difficult members of his team and a potential cover up of information by church officials. As the case progresses into more sinister territory, Rosen and his team must race into danger to save the sixth unfortunate victim.

I’ve always enjoyed crime novels, but I particularly liked the occult themes in this one. I liked the myths proposed for the killer’s motives and there were some religious themes but they weren’t too overbearing. I got a bit confused with the police characters’ names on the investigation at times as there are quite a few of them, but this didn’t detract from the story . Fast paced and disturbing, this is certainly a compelling debut!

Friday, 1 March 2013

Tethers by Jack Croxall

In a quiet rural market town two teenagers, Karl and Esther, discover a strange journal filled with odd passages and pictures. The lure of the mystery is too much for the pair and they soon find themselves drawn into a conspiracy that leads them away from their ordinary lives and on a dangerous adventure. 

I think the first thing that hooked me into the story was the intriguing prologue, where we come across a mysterious machine and secretive characters. Then, with the introduction of Karl and Esther, you’ll be racing to find out how everything ties in together. Over the course of the story we meet many characters, good guys and villains aplenty! 

My favourite character so far is teenager Esther; she’s good with her words and is feisty, a little heroine in the making! The friendship element in the story, especially between Karl and Esther, makes you feel more personally towards the characters, and it will be interesting to read how their relationship progresses over the course of their shared exploits. 

I thought that the setting of Victorian Nottingham/Lincolnshire worked really well for the story and was eloquently described. Tethers is well paced and easy to read. It is a great mix of history and adventure, and I can’t wait to see what the next part of the trilogy has in store for Karl and Esther! This is a must read for YA fans. Tethers is self published and available on Amazon now. Also, check out Jack Croxall’s interesting blog about Tethers and his thoughts on writing.