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A-red-lipstick-wearing bibliophile extraordinaire. Word nerd & Joss Whedon fangirl; Literature lover & book reviewer. Lady Libertine; Tea collector; Potterhead.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

OccultTober: Week One Wrap-Up.

I love October. It embraces everything I love about the world: the slow descent into autumn, leaves fall crunchy and I get to celebrate all things Occult for a whole month. T'is the season after all; black nails, blood-red lips, the macabre and absolutely nothing pumpkin-spiced. If that's not enough, I get to add snail secretion into my daily skincare routine, and celebrate getting one year older. I've levelling up to 26, and I guess that's what it's all about what this month is for me; scary, not sexy.
Okay, so the whole 'gothic' thing is pretty much everyday for me anyway; in the month of October though, the whole world seems to fall in line. What could be better than cramming as much spooky literature and events in as possible? Nothing, I say. I can't wait. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you OCCULTOBER. A month-long reading challenge of short stories, novels, poems and anything else that possesses something witchy, something paranormal and in most cases something downright terrifying. I'll wrap up every week with short reviews. As I'm a little behind on explaining things, I guess I'll start on that right now.

1. The Witches - Roald Dahl
This book terrified me as a child. I would sit on the wall outside my house and suspiciously eye any woman who passed me. Paranoid doesn't cover it, my imagination runs on overdrive anyway but after reading this I was firmly pushed into hyperdrive.
It's still creepy. I guess a synopsis would be useless as it's SO well known, but if you love scary children's stories and you haven't read this yet, I suggest you do so. Immediately. There's an even greater appreciation for this book as an adult. I hope my gloves, pleasant demeanour and penchant for chocolate terrifies children all over the world.

2. The Dreams in the Witch-House - H.P Lovecraft
I've dabbled in Lovecraft over the years, but never enough to solidify an actual opinion on the author. This was recommended to me by a friend, and after reading it I can quite confidently say that this man terrifies me. The story follows Walter Gilman, a student who takes up residence in 'the Witch House', a house in Arkham thought to be cursed. Shortly after moving in, Gilman starts to experience bizarre dreams, and nightly (and sometimes violent) occurrences of falling into different worlds.
The night I read this I dreamt of violet lights, never-ending bannisters and rats with human faces. I'm fairly certain that this isn't the strongest of Lovecraft's works but I'm excited for my friend to recommend me more.

3. The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner - Samuel Taylor Coleridge
I sort of wish all poems floored me the way this one does. Discovered during my A-Levels, it's the one poem from 'The Lyrical Ballads' (by Coleridge and Wordsworth) that made sure my love for the romantic era was etched into stone. It's unnerving, thought provoking and pokes at the embers of your imagination all at the same time. Not to mention it's really, really creepy. Once you read this, you'll always want to describe someone as having 'skin as white as leprosy.'
The poem focuses on a sailor stopping a member of a wedding party outside a reception, who is, despite all his best efforts to the contrary, is bewitched by the story and experiences of the mariner. If there is something you do this October, read this. I guarantee it'll change you. You won't regret it. I promise.

Here endeth week one. I'm already having the best time. Next week will be a busy one, I can't wait to get started. Who knew I'd be excited for Monday!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Review: The Luck Uglies

While reading this book, I had a simple mantra going through my head; I know what's going to happen next. I know what's going to happen next. 
A lot of the time, I just knew what was going to happen next, which is what usually occurs when you constantly have your nose in children's literature at 25 years of age, but 'The Luck Uglies' actually made me admit something to myself out loud. I was wrong. 

Here's the thing about villains, apart from being really, really misunderstood; they're actually pretty evil. Moral ambiguity and all that. Society tells us to steer clear of the tyranny of evil. For Rye's world, there's a name that strikes fear into the very heart of the villager. Luck Ugly.
The story starts the way real life should; running away from an angry poet. Rye and her friends have accidentally obtained a banned book, and now are trying to escape the clutches of the slighted victim. 
The book? It holds the secrets of the Universe. Well, the secrets and not-so illustrious past of the Village Drowning.
As the story progresses we learn more of the myths, legends, and rumours of this little village; on the night of the Black Moon, Rye's life changes forever. 

I loved this story, I devoured it in huge chunks at a time. Really, I just couldn't get enough of it. It was beautifully paced, fast when you needed it to be and slowed down just when I'd internally decided my imagination needed to walk instead of run. 
Rye and her friends had a 'pull up your socks' attitude, and Rye herself was alarmingly decisive for a young girl. It's something I really enjoyed, it's a nice sight to see the makings of strong characters without all the brooding doubt. They're all unique, and their little nuances make me eager to watch them grow.
The plot itself was great, at times it was a little predictable but knowing what happens next literally takes nothing away from how much I enjoyed it. It's just perfect for the younger age group, and anyone who enjoys a lovely fantasy novel now that the days are starting to grow cold. 

My only gripe is having to play the waiting game. So I'm left with all the impatience of a 5 year old, and a bit of a crush on Harmless actually. Want to know who HE is? Gonna have to read it to find out. 

Rating: ★★★★☆

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's
Price: £6.99

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Review: Sabotage, Jimmy Coates (#4)

NJ-7 finally achieved their heart's greatest desire: Jimmy Coates is out of the equation. Well, so they think.
After an elaborate ruse in the previous book, Jimmy successfully faked his own death to escape the clutches of the British Government. Again. Only to reluctantly walk into the open arms of the CIA, who promised him save passage out of the USA and protection from the Prime Minister, Ian Coates.

Unfortunately for Jimmy, his relocation attempt goes awry. His plane going down is the least of his worries when he discovers NJ-7's next grand scheme. It's called Neptune's Shadow; a secret missile base disguised as an oil rig. Information has it that the missiles are pointing towards France. Britain is planning on starting a war.
Stranded in the middle of nowhere, and all alone, it's all to clear what his next mission is. It involves a little bit of sabotage, but the question is: can he successfully foil this plan and stay dead?

I hope further along in this series I don't have to start all my reviews in this way, but poor Jimmy Coates. You would think I'd get used to his hardships by now, but alas that's not the case. I found this one particularly difficult to read, for the simple fact that I've never seen him struggle as much before. Alone in the wilderness, this young boy hasn't got a soul to share his burden with and you can see how much it starts to affect him.
Very early on, his obsession with caution turns into full blown paranoia. His doubt in the CIA bubbles constantly under the surface of his skin, and without his family, he heavily relies on his programming to aid him. This eventually just brings him full circle to his ever present inner turmoils of being a reluctant assassin. As the story (and his programming) advances, the more you can see Jimmy try to grasp at the tendrils of humanity with sweaty palms. This is especially shown in the periods where the assassin completely takes over the 38% acts as his moral compass, reminding him what he believes in and more importantly who he believes in. It's a very sharp reminder that his enemies aren't the only people who he's constantly fighting.
Often, heroes in children's stories are very linear, and are particularly morally sound. There isn't much room for the blurring of lines, but this isn't the case here. I really enjoy the fact that Jimmy is a complex character, and quite often gives in to his 'villainous' side, which ironically humanises him more than anything.

I always look forward to reviewing these books, as it's definitely become one of my most enjoyed series. If you haven't started it yet, I'm frankly ashamed I haven't convinced you, yet.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Publisher: Harper Collins Childrens
Price: £6.99

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Review: Fortunately, the Milk

Dad's in charge because mum is away, and the most important thing he has to do? Remember the milk. When you think about it logically, it's all very simple really. Right?

Two children wake up one morning staring the horror of dry cereal in the face, and they discover that their father has forgotten the milk. Water and cereal isn't a good combination at all, so he must rectify the situation immediately! The simple task of saving breakfast turns into an epic quest featuring swashbuckling pirates, Professor Steg, the time travelling dinosaur; fresh water piranhas and the old classic: a bunch of wumpires. (Special mention to the aliens, I love a good amount of slimy green alien in a story.)
This is probably one of the most wonderfully ridiculous things I've read all year. If anyone can capture the very heart of me and make it soar, it's Neil Gaiman.

As with all of his children's stories, it comes hand in hand with adorable illustrations (courtesy this time, of one Chris Riddell). It pulled everything together so wonderfully. I spent a large amount of time simply enjoying what I was looking at, which is always a nice change of pace for me. This is one of those things that has you smiling and chuckling without realising you're doing it.

I highly recommend this to adults, children, and time travelling dinosaurs alike. If you're a fan of Neil Gaiman there is absolutely no way you'll not enjoy this! I think it's yet another chance to go exploring in that delightful brain of his.

Rating: ★★★

Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Review: The Shining Girls

When a book seller recommended this read to me they simply said one thing: "Time-travelling murderer." I purchased it so quickly, I was practically tripping over my own excitement.

It is during the Great Depression, where violent drifter Harper Curtis finds himself run out of Hooverville Chicago, and straight into a house that opens up to different points in time.
Appealing to his killer instinct, the house leads him to his future victims- the girls who literally shine with potential, and it's up to Harper to put out those lights. He would stalk them for years, through childhood to adolescence, until the perfect opportunity arose.
Kirby Mazarachi is one of his victims. And she survives. The year is 1992, and the hunter unknowingly becomes the hunted.

Much like Harper's memories, I'm in two minds about this book. I both like it and I don't. I love the concept of this story, a murderer evading detection by skipping through time was very appealing to me. I believe that author Lauren Beukes did a very good job of it, but something is decidedly lacking.

The principle characters are almost fully rounded.
Kirby is proactive, determined and absolutely refuses to be a victim of circumstance. This girl has without a doubt, has an unyielding strength, but something about her seems lazy. Sloppy. She's nearly a brilliant hero.
Other than sexual gratification, no other explanation is offered to why the girls are so important. Harper is sick, and twisted, but not in the same way as Patrick Süskind's character, Grenouille. In 'Perfume', you can feel the pull of arousal in waves; it feels real, and disturbing. Especially since there's reason, a method to madness we don't see in this book. There should have been more grit to Harper's character, but there wasn't.

The time travel thing nearly worked.
Again, no explanation to why the house worked the way it did. It opened to different years, and that's that. If you have a hard time swallowing this fact, it will probably be a very difficult read for you. I happen to like the science bit of the sci-fi element (I think most people do), so I was a bit disheartened it was missing.

One thing I have no doubt about, and what ultimately half won me over in the end was the beautifully stylistic writing of Beukes. It is writing I am very comfortable with reading, and it flowed wonderfully. I adored it. Even if the story seemed sort of flat, in a very fulfilling way. It's definitely worth a read if you've got a craving for some YA literature, that doesn't have a hint of dystopian future.

 Rating: ★★★☆

Publisher: HarperCollins
Price: £7.99

Monday, 15 July 2013

Review: Revenge (Jimmy Coates, #3)

Jimmy seems to be finding it increasingly difficult to evade the clutches of NJ-7. However, the recent escape wasn't one without injury. When we last left them, a life was hanging in the balance, and once more Jimmy and his family are forced into a life on the run.

In the third instalment of the series, Christopher Viggo has found himself unnamed powerful new friends who have agreed to smuggle them all into the United States and out of harms way. With this new alliance, plans to take down NJ-7 once and for all are being put into motion.
All hopes of a normal life away from their enemies are dashed when Jimmy starts experience recurring images flashing inside his head, accompanied by mind boggling headaches. What do they mean? And can Jimmy even trust what's going on inside his own body?

This felt different than the others, although still packed with enormous amounts of action, it almost seemed muted under the weight of the emotions rolling throughout this book. A lot of the main characters are experiencing some form of inner turmoil at this point, constant fear and moving from one place to the next seems to be heightening tensions all around. (Thank goodness for Felix who seems to act once again, as light relief and gave me frequent moments of giggles.)
Unlike the previous two books, I wasn't tearing out my hair at the injustice of it all, instead it was replaced by a deep rooted sadness. Jimmy feels older. Emotionally, he's matured into someone who is riddled with confusion, and obsession. He's all too aware of how far people are willing to go to manipulate him to serve their own purpose, and although frequently broken he seems to find himself putting trust at the feet of people he barely even knows. It's awful to experience as a reader. It really, really is.

I read this in pretty much one sitting, and was itching to buy the next book when I'd got to a revelation that forced me stop at one point and say, "I'm sorry, what?" Hats off to Joe Craig though, for managing to change the overall tone of this book without changing pace.
I've really come to the love this series, and the wonderful writing style of the author. I know I've said this before but it really is underrated, falling under the shadow of Alex Rider and similar boy hero series. I really think it's something that should and could have the potential to stand up on its own, if only people would take it as something that is entirely independent. (Because it is, you know.)

I have an unwritten rule when it comes to my reading dates: I usually wait three books before I call myself a fan of something. I'm flying the Jimmy Coates flag, you guys. I think you should be doing the same.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Review: The Ocean At The End of the Lane.

It took a lot of coaxing and badgering to get me to pick up a Neil Gaiman book, but it was never from a lack of interest; I simply hadn't got there yet.
I finally did just over a year ago, and haven't looked back since. I'm fairly certain that Mr Gaiman's head is the place where half remembered dreams go to end up more beautiful, and more complete than anyone ever thought possible. His words have had a profound effect on me, and I swear I've been a fan my whole life. I'd try to explain, but to do so is to become lexically challenged. I need my words right now. Having said that, I'll try my hardest to make this an actual book review and not an ode to the author.

But where to begin? Inevitably, at the beginning. We are introduced to a man attending a funeral, in the neighbourhood in which he grew up. He takes a tumble down memory lane; all of a sudden he's seven years old again and no one attended his birthday party. He remembers Lettie Hempstock, the 11 year old girl who convinces him that a pond behind her house is actually the ocean. He remembers the lodger who stole the family car, and committed suicide in it. And he remembers the unspeakable evils that came as a consequence.

The novel's beauty lies in its innocence of childhood memory, in its heart lies the need for survival against all odds, and in its soul the very magic of it lies (in my humble opinion) a story of friendship and trust. I entered a place that had no concept of time while I was reading this; I'd started during the day, and the sun had started to set by the time I looked up from the last page. Of course, it has some unspeakable horrors that leaves me goose pimply and nervous. There are three chapters, two involve a bathroom and one a field; even speaking about it makes my skin react terribly, they're the sort of instances that will stay with me forever. With the seven year old protagonist, I was transported back to younger days when I would end up being terrified by what I was reading and desperately trying to make sense of the why.

It was everything I hoped it would be, and absolutely nothing I expected. It was different, and definitely more personal to the author, but it felt the same and all wrapped up in a familiar genre that is so completely his own it can only really be described in my head as Gaimany. I loved this book. I'm glad it turned from a novella, into a novel. I will recommend this to everyone of every age group, simply because any age group can read it. I so highly recommend this, I'd probably even be willing to part with my own copy. I think.

Rating: ★★★