Monday, 27 June 2016

Alice by Christina Henry

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was when this book came up. I’m a huge Alice in Wonderland fan but I’ve only read one other re-imagining before this novel. 

In this version of Alice, we meet a broken young woman locked away in an asylum. She is unsure as to why she is in such an awful place but she does remember endless tea parties, a terrible man with long ears, pain and blood. 

One night, a fire takes hold at the hospital and Alice makes her escape with a strange young man, Hatcher, who has a bloody, messed up past of his own. Along with their own jailbreak, a dreadful beast is also unleashed, leaving a path of terror in its wake. 

Navigating the treacherous Old City, Alice and Hatcher must negotiate with mob bosses, magicians and criminals to face their pasts, uncover hidden truths about themselves and go against the mysterious beast. 

I had no idea just how brutal and graphic this novel would be and I devoured every page of it. It is definitely a more adult take on the popular novel with plenty of nefarious characters who torture, butcher and manipulate their way through the story. 

As violent and disturbing as some events are described, this book is not mindless violence or shock-mongering. There is an incredibly creative storyline running throughout about a young woman becoming a heroine in light of everything she has been through and everything she is yet to face. Much more Alice. 

Familiar characters and ideas from the original Alice in Wonderland story have been delightfully twisted into a dark, fantasy hybrid that is literally unputdownable. This would make a trippy screen adaptation, maybe by Tim Burton if he made it 18+ or Guillermo del Toro would totally do this justice. Alice in her new form is messed up yet brave and the flaws in her character make her all the more likeable. 

My only issue with the story was that some of the challenges she faced seemed to be overcome so quickly. Not to say that everything she and Hatcher face is an easy task, but I would have liked the fight scenes to be more drawn out. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I couldn’t get enough of Alice and her twisted adventures and I wanted more of everything! Needless to say, I can’t wait to get my greedy little hands on the second book, The Red Queen

Wildly imaginative and disturbingly dark, this is an original twist on a quirky classic that is sure to stun, shock and entertain even the hardiest of Wonderland fans. Check out my guest post for the Alice blog tour exploring the cover art for this fantastic series. 

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Swimming Pool by Louise Candlish

I’ve been lucky enough to have had a little break away in Spain last week and just before I went I was faced with the challenging decision of picking my holiday reads. It was just a short haul flight, hand luggage only, so I had to choose wisely as I didn’t have much space to transport a library! I noticed The Swimming Pool in my waiting pile and figured this was the perfect time to start it. 

With summer on the horizon, suburban town Elm Hill reopens it’s lido following a prominent renovation campaign headed by sensational suburbanite Lara Channing. Teacher Natalie Steele is drawn to the lido with its alluring social scene and to Lara herself, despite her daughter Molly’s deep phobia of water. 

As she gets closer to Lara and her new glamorous friends, Natalie begins to rail against the stereotypes of being a sensible school teacher and prim housewife, much to the disapproval of her husband Ed and old friends she finds herself drifting away from. 

But along with the highs of her new social life, Natalie also finds herself haunted by memories of a childhood summer at another large body of water which changed her life forever. Soon she is left wondering if her new found friendship is everything that it seems, if her marriage can take the strain of the changes in her life and who she is as a person. 

The lido was a great setting for this novel as it made for an interesting social backdrop for the characters to meet and also a place to explore Molly’s water phobia. I also liked how wealthy Lara’s obsession with swimming and vintage films added some glitz to the story, conjuring images of Hollywood pool parties, old-fashioned swimming baths and stunning summer evenings. If you Google ‘Poolside Glamor’ by Slim Aarons (as referenced in the book), you’ll get an idea of this. 

I actually found that reading this book poolside added something extra to the story. Not to say that it is an essential reading location, but being near open water helped me gain a bigger feel for the events in the book which I very much enjoyed! 

Layered into the story are some quite dark undertones and mature themes. The way the story kept bouncing back and forth in time really helped build up the suspense. There is a mystery Natalie’s past that is often referred to, marital strains for the Steeles all linking back to the Channings, and poor Molly’s phobia and how it affects all of the family’s lives. 

Pacy, engrossing and unpredictable, The Swimming Pool is an excellent summer thriller to devour at home or away. 

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Through the Looking Glass - Alice Blog Tour

Through the looking glass, what could have been…

At Titan Books we take our book covers very seriously and we’re lucky enough to have a wonderful design team behind us. When we first got the Alice manuscript in we knew we had something very special, and that it would need a very special cover to go alongside it. We thought today we would take you through the looking glass to have a look behind the scenes of our cover process:

1) The beginning
As you may know Alice first came out in the US with the wonderful Ace Books where they have a very distinctive, and very different look:


We loved the jackets, but felt that we wanted something that highlighted the dark fantasy element more.

2) Inspiration
When we look at book cover design one of the first things we do is to distil the  elements of the book down and pull together a mood board of other covers to draw inspiration from. For Alice some of these key themes, moods and words were:
…and of course “Alice”

From there our editorial team pull together other covers that have made an impression on them that capture one or more of these moods and create a board for discussion. Here’s what ended up on our Chronicles of Alice boards:

3) Progress
Once editorial have gathered up their mood board they take it to the design meeting and pick over what does and doesn’t work:

What didn’t work for us:
-          Having Alice on the cover – an odd choice perhaps for a book called Alice, but the blue dress and blonde tumbling hair felt too safe. The Chronicles of Alice are dark and dangerous, and like the US we wanted to put the biggest villain of them front and centre…
-          Too much colour: Alice’s world in Alice is an urban nightmare tinted by blood and we wanted the covers to reflect this.

What did work for us:
-          We loved the creeping menace of Wolf by Wolf and wanted to use this side on silhouette with our covers
-          The simplicity of the colour scheme for A Darker Shade of Magic and the urban touches also felt in keeping with Alice

4) The final result
Sometimes covers can go through several cycles before they come together, and it is a testament to the power of Henry’s writing that actually on this occasion we feel we nailed it straight away (if we do say so ourselves) and we hope you agree:


Monday, 13 June 2016

Red Dirt by E.M. Reapy

It’s been over a year since my backpacking adventure last Spring but it’s something I think about often. With summer making its slow bloom with longer days, increasing temperatures and occasional sunny spells (this is England after all) I thought this was a great time to read this book. I was drawn in by the travel theme in the hot climes of Australia and that is what I got, with plenty of drama besides. 

In Red Dirt, three young Irish people have come to Australia in search of fun, escape and the chance to earn some money. Moving from hostel to hostel and making friends every step of the way, it seems at first glance an ideal way to live. 

Simple work, carefree nights filled with easily available drink and drugs and little responsibility are fun at first, but the hedonistic days have consequences for all the young people in the end. 

One spoilt young man allows a drunken argument to escalate to fatal violence, another young man is left for dead by those he thought were friends, and a young lady puts herself in a dangerous situation when she runs out of money. 

I liked how the book was separated in three to tell the tales of the three main characters but their stories also subtly cross over at times. As the characters all face very different journeys around the harsh landscape of Australia, this novel highlights the darker the side of backpacking. The self-destructiveness of over-indulgence with drugs and alcohol, the shady characters you meet on the road and the people that can so callously take advantage of vulnerable individuals. 

There is a lot of drug use in the book and where the stories are told from a first-person perspective, the chaotic feelings from the drug use times a stressful situation were emphasized in the speech which made for a more authentic and gritty story. 

This book is far from doom or gloom though. There are characters that show that humanity can be good (I loved Samaritan couple Geoff and Dorothy), a great sense of place with the wild Australian outback and so much potential for all the hopeful travellers living their very own adventure. 

Even though some of the characters aren’t inherently likeable, there is a pressing quality to their stories that keeps you engaged and genuinely interested in what happens to them. With forceful dialogue and pages of drama, Red Dirt is a compelling read perfect for the long hot summer days - when they eventually arrive!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone by G.S. Denning

The character of Sherlock Holmes has had new life breathed in to him through countless novels and screen versions starring his infamous powers of deduction and crime solving abilities. As much as I enjoy the intelligent mysteries and old-fashioned charm of most Holmes stories, I actually find Sherlock as a character quite arrogant and tiresome at times.

Warlock Holmes is a completely new take on the Holmes universe entirely and I lapped up every word. Warlock Holmes would like to believe he has the powers of deduction to rival his name sake, but he is not as rational or quick thinking as most detectives.

He is a being with strange and unusual powers, what with the spirit of his nemesis Professor James Moriarty trapped in his head and connections to numerous demons; he certainly makes for a remarkable character.

The story is told from the journal of Holmes’ loyal sidekick Dr. John Watson. Down on his luck, the poor doctor thinks he has found his feet when he finds cheap lodgings with Holmes at 221B Baker Street. Of course it is all too good to be true, and far from getting an easy ride, Watson is swept up in Holmes’ crime capers.

Usually, I end up feeling sorry for the traditional character of Watson, as he is dragged on cases and undermined at every turn. In this take however, although Watson provides the majority of the brain power despite putting up with Holmes’ bizarre behaviour, you can tell that he cannot help but get up in and actually enjoy the adventure, just as the reader does through Watson’s recollections.

We meet a variety of characters, but two regulars in this novel are a couple of detectives in the form of a temperamental ogre and a melancholy vampire, both adding extra weirdness to proceedings. It is a unique investigative combination but each person has their invaluable uses.

There are several short mysteries that string this novel together and each one is as exciting and entertaining as the last. This book is laugh out loud funny and charming in an oddball kind of way. No spoilers here but the ending was brilliant too and I cannot wait for the next Warlock Holmes case.

Packed full of comedy, supernatural mystery, comedy and demons, this is an awesome start of what is undoubtedly the freshest and most entertaining take on Holmes I’ve ever encountered. 

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Trail of Echoes by Rachel Howzell Hall

With the third book swiftly under her belt, I think it’s fair to say that Mother Butterfly is a certified Elouise Norton/ Rachel Howzell Hall fan and so I left this review to her. Enjoy!

This is the third book in the Elouise Norton series and follows on several months after Skies of Ash. Lou has divorced her cheating husband and has a fledgling romance with Sam, a handsome lawyer.  She has left the marital home and is occupying the spare room at her journalist friend’s house.

When the body of a teenage girl, stuffed in a bag is found in a park, Lou and her team are called in to deal with this horrific and senseless murder.  The girl comes from “The Jungle”, a development where Lou herself was brought up.  In fact she knows the family very well, having lived only a few doors away from them when she was a child.

She still has her hapless sidekick Colin with her, and they are thrown headlong into the investigation.  There are a few leads for them to look at, including the girl’s boyfriend, other neighbourhood bad boys, including a Mexican man just out of prison for paedophile crimes, the councillor from the victim’s high school and even the girl’s own family members.

The crime scenes go into a good level of technical detail, including crime scene details and the forensic investigation without being overly graphic. As the body count rises, Lou is stretched to the limit and very nearly on the verge of collapse.  Things with Sam are not ideal and she now has another guy chasing after her; a surgeon from the local hospital who happened to be at the first murder scene and helped her when she hurt herself.

She also has her father, who abandoned the family years ago, back on the scene trying to speak with Lou and annoying her mother.  With so much going on in her personal life, how will she cope with her boss breathing down her neck all the time and the solving of these terrible crimes?

I think that Rachel Howzell Hall is very good at making you care about her characters, especially Elouise. Elouise is a very human character that makes her more likeable. I have enjoyed both her previous books and this one was just as exciting and captivating.