Thursday, 31 October 2013

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I’ve had the 10th anniversary of Coraline sitting unread on my Kindle for quite a while now, so what better time to read it than for Halloween.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a Neil Gaiman fan, and although he has featured on my blog before (Shadows over Innsmouth and Rags & Bones) I’ve not reviewed one of his novels before until now. 

The star of this tale is of course Coraline Jones, who has just moved into a new house with her workaholic parents. On an exploration of her new home, she meets some of the other residents; there are the two retired actresses who live in the basement with lots of dogs, and an eccentric old man who lives in the attic training a circus of mice.

In her own flat, she finds a bricked up wall behind a locked door. When she least expects it, the bricks disappear and she travels through the door into a parallel world. In the new place, things look similar but are infinitely more interesting. She has an other mother and father who appear to look like her real parents, apart from the fact that they have buttons for eyes. Her other mother tries to persuade Coraline to stay in the new world with gifts and entertainment, but when she shows her true nature, Coraline  finds what started as an adventure has turned dangerous. 

This is the sort of mild horror for children that I always loved growing up. With ghosts, spiders and other creatures from dreams, I can imagine how some children could find this a little scary. Even I found the rats, with their creepy little rhymes unnerving! But the story is also about hope and bravery and I adored it. I also love the film version too, which is slightly different to the original tale, although both are equally dark and enchanting.

The tenth anniversary edition has an introduction by Neil Gaiman on the origins of Coraline and there are illustrations by Chris Riddell. Coraline is an adventurous heroine in a quirky read that children and parents can enjoy.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Goosebumps by R.L. Stine

Halloween is fast approaching. Pumpkins are appearing in shops, costumes are on sale and everyone bookish is discussing their favourite scary reads. With an abundance of skulls and spiders, ghosts and ghouls everywhere, it got me thinking about my own experiences of Halloween and relevant reads. 

Our Goosebumps books!
Nothing to me, reminds me of Halloween in book terms than the Goosebumps books by American author R.L. Stine. They were a huge part of my literary childhood; my sister and I loved the spine tingling tales and collected many of the books. We had stand alone novels, the 3-in-1 collection books, Goosebumps 2000 series, and even a hardback Goosebumps book that wailed when you opened the cover! 

Since the release of the first novel, Welcome to Dead House in July 1992, the books gained immense popularity and commercial success worldwide. As of 2008, the series sold over 350 million books worldwide in 35 languages and has been listed on many bestseller lists, including the New York Times Best Seller list for children. 

Goosebumps Series 2000
Two common themes in the series are children triumphing over evil and kids facing horrid or frightening situations and using their own wit and imagination to escape them. As well as supernatural and horror themes, there was also adventure and humour too. The success of the books spawned a popular TV series and themed merchandise. 

Just the theme song and opening credits of the TV series takes me down memory lane. There is something about this kind of horror that most children love. Ghosts, monsters, pumpkins, ventriloquist dummies, vampires, werewolves; the range of horror and imagination is endless! A fantasy world made of Halloween creatures is dark and thrilling and hugely popular both in fiction and film. 

Well loved Goosebumps Collections
With the Goosebumps books, the brightly coloured covers, with the raised images and iconic slimy font are excitingly appealing. I can’t even pick a favourite because I remember enjoying all the stories in their own right. Although I do remember particularly liking the books where you choose the path of the character and determine the ending. 

Give Yourself Goosebumps
As far as I am aware, Goosebumps books are still growing strong and R.L. Stine continues to have a strong fan base of children and adults alike. My sister and I still have all of our Goosebumps books, even if some are dog eared and worn and I hope to share those stories I loved when I have children of my own. 

If you had any Goosebumps books please feel free to comment. What was your favourite? Were you genuinely terrified by any of the books? Did you ever watch the TV series? Or maybe you buy the books for your own children? Either way I would love to hear from you!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Omens by Kelley Armstrong

Has anyone else read any of Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld books? My mum bought the first book Bitten back in the early noughties and we were hooked ever since. So I was very excited to learn that Armstrong is starting a new supernatural set. 

Omens is the first book in the new Cainsville series about a strange little town full of secrets both unnatural or otherwise. We are introduced to society girl Olivia Taylor-Jones who’s seemingly perfect life is turned upside down when she learns she is actually Eden Larsen, the daughter of a famous serial killing couple. 

She ends up leaving her home, her family and fiancé for the little town of Cainsville in the hope of lying low from the press while she digests the news. But after meeting her estranged mother, she teams up with man-mountain lawyer Gabriel to look more closely at the murders her biological parents allegedly committed, dredging up all sorts of secrets and conspiracies along the way. 

I’ve always enjoyed how Armstrong writes her characters; all memorable and individual, string female leads alongside strong confident males (Olivia and Gabriel have a dynamic much like Elena and Clay of the Otherworld series minus the lycanthropy!). 

The town of Cainsville is like something from a Stephen King novel; bursting with secrets and strangeness. Although Olivia’s quest for the truth about her parents is the main storyline, there are many intriguing offshoots featuring the Cainsville inhabitants just waiting to be uncovered. 

Throughout the story Olivia sees omens; crows and ravens, black cats, poppies and such which tantalising hint at some things yet to pass. As well as being irresistibly supernatural, it is also a compelling psychological thriller. 

If you've never read Kelley Armstrong before I urge you to give this a try. Clever and captivating, like the portents scattered throughout, Omens should definitely not be ignored. 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Rags & Bones edited by Melissa Marr & Tim Pratt

I always enjoy short story collections because you get to experience a varied range of stories, ideas and perspectives within the pages of a single volume. 

With this book I was thrilled to see the names of a couple of my favourite authors (Neil Gaiman and Kelley Armstrong). There were a few names I've heard of but had yet to read and some that were new to me entirely, which is always exciting. 

Rags & Bones introduces (or re-visits for some) classic stories that have been re-imagined here by a colourful mix of authors. The contributors are Saladin Ahmed, Kelley Armstrong, Holly Black, Neil Gaiman, Kami Garcia, Garth Nix, Carrie Ryan, Margaret Stohl, Gene Wolfe, Rick Yancey and the two editors Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt. There is also some artwork from Charles Vess, which breaks the tales up nicely. 

There are a couple of takes on fairytales here which I really enjoyed. I always find different interpretations of fairytales fascinating. The other stories were all wonderfully varied with dabbles in science fiction, fantasy and dystopian fiction. 

I often find in short story anthologies that I love some, like some and some are forgettable once I've finished the book. With Rags & Bones I genuinely, thoroughly enjoyed every tale in its own right. All the stories were very engaging and incredibly thought provoking. The authors were asked to retell a classic story that meant something to them, and the obvious passion, enthusiasm and consideration for their subject shines through in every telling. I can’t even pick a favourite because so many had elements that hooked me in and stayed with me afterwards. 

This is a unique collection of stories which not only entertain and get you thinking, but also piques your curiosity as to the original stories they were inspired by. Most of the original stories I have never come across before, but quite want to explore now.

I think this book will be an interesting read for most readers, but sci-fi and fantasy fans should definitely check this book out. Rags & Bones is a fantastic collection of tales with a little something for everyone. 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Killer Queens by Rebecca Chance

I had my first experience of Rebecca Chance in January when I reviewed Killer Heels. There are several of her other novels on my to read list, but Killer Queens is the latest addition and I couldn't wait to read it.

We meet three women, each introduced into a royal family in different circumstances, but not all ends up leading the fairytale lifestyle everyone imagines them. 

American athlete Lori falls for the charming ruler of a super rich European tax-haven. They have a whirlwind romance but she begins to wonder if it may just be too good to be true. 

Belinda was one of the world’s most iconic princesses but she is forced to stage her own death and abandon her children to stay alive. But with the announcement of her son, Prince Hugo’s wedding, she risks coming out of hiding to celebrate the big day. 

Chloe, Prince Hugo’s fiancée, is a normal, down to earth girl, whose romance with the future King of England has propelled her into the limelight. As the wedding day looms, she begins to doubt her place amongst the royals and her role as future Queen. 

All the women are quite different, but as their stories interlink, there are many similarities too and you feel more for all of them. You can easily draw parallels between Chloe and Hugo of Killer Queens, to real life royals the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge William and Kate. Their story is very reminiscent of the royal wedding which took place last year. Last year also saw Great Britain host the Olympics, which is also mentioned in the book. 2012 was quite a joyous, celebratory year and this story encapsulated those feelings well but with added sugar and spice. 

Lori’s story reminded me a little of The Princess Diaries (more movie with Anne Hathaway than the book by Meg Cabot), in the sense that she moves to a little-known European principality, where she must learn the language, the history and the culture. The main difference between them being the steamy sex scenes! 

Rebecca Chance has such a natural flow to her writing that draws you in with the promise of smut and scandal but keeps you engaged with the drama and interweaving plot lines. I love how her stories have lots of descriptions of exotic and exciting locations. 

Sexy and stylish, Killer Queens is an indulgent, cheeky read that fans of this genre will love. If you've yet to read a Rebecca Chance novel, I urge you to try this one. Not only will you enjoy it, but you will never look at a banana the same way again!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews

Jack the Ripper is one of the most infamous serial killers of all time. Having committed so many brutal murders and yet remained unknown gives authors plenty of scope to build a crime story around the bones of this legendary case.

In Letters from a Murderer, we are transported to New York, 1891, where a prostitute has been found murdered in a startlingly similar manner to the Ripper victims of London. The premise of the story elaborates on the theory that the Ripper may have crossed the Atlantic to evade capture and continue killing. Or could these new murders be the work of a copycat killer? 

It is down to aristocratic pathologist Finley Jameson to make sense of the murders and decipher the letters sent to him via the press from the killer himself, goading Finley as he continues to avoid arrest. Jameson teams up with Joseph Argenti, a seasoned New York cop who provides a fresh perspective. 

We get to see the story from many points of view. I especially liked the killer’s view point and his taunting letters which make the story more sinister and exciting. There is also a gang related crime story running alongside the Ripper murders that introduce more characters, and which interlink with the investigation. 

As a crime investigating duo, Jameson and Argenti didn't gel well for me. I like that they are very different men in their own right, but I didn't feel an affinity between them that I've found with other police pairings. My favourite character was Jameson’s assistant Lawrence, a soft spoken man with an eidetic memory, who Jameson saved from the madhouse. 

The story is well told; gritty and gruesome in all the right places, and with plenty of action. Letters from a Murderer is an interesting take on the Jack the Ripper theme and a solid historical crime fiction read.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Stormbird by Conn Iggulden

“He suddenly remembered his mother telling him the mistle thrushes were the last birds in the air before a great storm. Country folk would see them flying alone on the wind and know a tempest was on its way.”

I was hugely excited to be offered the chance to review this book. As a historical fiction fan I have surprisingly never read a Conn Iggulden book until now! Stormbird is the first in a landmark series about the War of the Roses.

In this first book, two families cause civil unrest in England for thirty years. King Henry and his supporters are threatened from all sides and the kingdom is at risk. We are introduced to a wide range of characters and we are privy to their actions and how the consequences interlink with the other players.

There are the royals and noblemen fighting over the throne and making shady deals amongst each other. There are the wives and families who also muscle in on the politics that surround them. Then there are soldiers fighting the wars for the rich, and the common folk who either run or rebel.  All the main characters are well described and each has a fascinating story to be told. The action is spread across cities, in the countryside and even at sea.

Stormbird is incredibly well researched, and even though there are a huge number of characters and important events that take place, the story is engaging and very easy to follow. With buckets of action, drama and romance, this book ticks a lot of boxes.

The War of the Roses is a fascinating period of history. It is even more relevant right now given the fairly recent discovery of Richard III’s bones and also the nation’s obsession with epic TV series Game of Thrones, which draws on some events from this era. I could definitely see the similarities with GoT, of which I am also a huge fan, so this made me enjoy the book even more!

Bursting with period detail and jam packed with action, Stormbird is an excellent start to a promising historical fiction trilogy from a bestselling author. I definitely recommend this for Iggulden fans old and new and anyone that loves history. I am eagerly awaiting the next instalment.

If this review has piqued your curiosity, check out the book trailer below for more info!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

White Truffles in Winter by N.M. Kelby

“Let the food speak where words cannot.” 

For renowned French chef Auguste Escoffier, food is life. He changed the face of the dining experience with his famous restaurants at The Savoy and The Ritz. A passionate man, Escoffier was torn between two important women in his life; the beautiful and reckless flame-haired actress Sarah Bernhardt, and his wife, the poet Delphine Daffis. 

As he travels around, cooking and inventing dishes for the world’s rich and famous, his wife is dismayed that he has never created a signature dish for her. In this imagining of the world of Escoffier, ideals of love and food collide. 

I found this tale magical from the start. The tantalising imagery of food will have you salivating, and the story as a whole is delightfully descriptive. 

The setting of post World War One and the appearance of political figures of the time, ground the story in a darker realism, which makes you feel more for the main characters, and the importance of the food and interactions the characters share. 

The story does jump back and forth in time quite a lot, as we meet Escoffier and Delphine in old age and explore their marriage past and present through their memories of Escoffier’s career, his other dalliances and of course, food. 

Food is a universal, and food preferences are individual and in some ways meaningful to some. Escoffier’s relationship with food is certainly unique. His character is flawed in many ways, but his remarkable prowess in the kitchen and his enthusiasm for his craft is endearing. This is of course a work of fiction, as there are many accounts of the life and times of Auguste Escoffier. Kelby’s representation has quite a dreamy, enchanting quality to it that I hope isn't too far from the truth of the real Escoffier. 

This book is a feast of drama and romance, with a handful of engaging characters and sprinkling of stylish locations with a big helping of elegance. Sad in parts but joyous too, I found the whole story enchanting. White Truffles in Winter is a stylish, escapist read; a real treat for foodie fans.