Saturday, 24 March 2018

The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan Stroud

"Half of me still believed I should be somewhere else, holding fast to a solitary career that couldn't imperil Lockwood and the others."

I can't express with adequate vigour just how much I love this series. Sure, I'm an overgrown child. Yes it is young adult fiction. Do I care? Hell no!  Lucy Carlyle's supernatural abilities are only a small part of her appeal. She is tormented and fantastic and makes for a fantastic protagonist. I have a massive crush on Lockwood - the unattainable man is always attractive - this also seems rather wrong, particularly given the age differential. Then there's the action and it is out of this world.

A strange haunted village, combines with mystery and intrigue - what are those agencies up to? What has all the ghosts riled up and what is the scary, creeping shadow? Also, the talking skull goes missing and I love him unreservedly. Did i mention there's also a really creepy cannibal ghost - so much going on!!

5 out of 5 spooks from wall to wall.

Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann

"She looked at him, and in a sudden stab and flash of realisation, saw him as one isolated, remote, a figure alone in a far place"

What they don't tell you when you're young is that there will come a time when experience dulls the senses somewhat. Much becomes predictable and mundane and that overwhelming  sense of wonder at a world full of new experiences fades. Reading this rather quaint novel took me back to those days of endless anticipation. Where a dance is never just a dance, its a step towards never-ending possibility. These days a dance is more likely to be something of a solo endeavour, come to think of it, most things are.

Back to the novel and the protagonist is a delight. Perhaps that's because I can relate to having a better looking, more popular sibling - thankfully in my case of the opposite sex, so not in competition like Olivia and Kate. After spending copious hours at the hairdresser today I'm thankfully feeling a little less like scruffy Olivia ( the magic of an expert hairdresser ).

As a snapshot of seventeen, that awkward age between girl and woman, this novel is beautifully realised and I enjoyed it considerably more than other works by the same author. Some experiences are universal and timeless, only the circumstances change.

5 out of 5 dance cards are different to Tinder.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud

“George had long ago stolen the ghost-jar from a rival agency, but it was only when I’d  accidentally twisted a lever in the lid that I realized that the spirit trapped there could actually speak to me….It had no morals worth speaking of, and more vices that you would think possible for a disembodied head floating in a jar.”

Goodness me what an ending!!! But let’s start at the beginning, shall we? The 3rd instalment of the Lockwood and Co series is a complete page turner. The stakes are getting increasingly higher for Lockwood, Lucy and George as the city of London has a massive ghost infestation. After their impressive efforts at shutting down the mysterious disappearances at a guest house, the trio are perplexed as to why they are being kept out of the huge team of agents able to tackle the Chelsea Outbreak by Scotland Yard and DEPRAC (the Department of Psychical Research and Control).

If that’s not frustrating enough, Lucy must put up with the annoying new recruit, Holly Munro – an organisational marvel and general neat freak – upsetting the group dynamic at the firm of Lockwood & Co. Lucy’s jealousy of Holly is further encouraged by her conversations with the head in a jar, who delights in the drama.

When the team decide to tackle the breakout on their own terms, they are joined by some unlikely colleagues for a massive show down in a place with way too much history. The main show down in an eerie department store makes for a fascinating climax and an unbelievable outcome. I gasped!!! NOOOOOO!!!

Oh go on, you know you want to read this. Best start with book one and keep on trucking!

5 out of 5 shape shifting ghouls can really confuse.


“The Wraith fractured like a reflection in stirred water.”

I do so love it when you take a punt (well an educated one – I mean I did love his other series) and buy the entire suite of books from a series so you don’t have to wait. There is none of that frightful anticipation, waiting for the next book to be released or written. Time plays tricks with the old noggin’ and sometimes it is difficult to recall where you left off when there’s a long stretch between volumes.

I ran for the bookcase as soon as I had finished the first book of the series, with eager anticipation for further Lockwood & Co shenanigans and was handsomely rewarded for my efforts. Lucy is becoming more firmly part of the furniture at Lockwood & Co and this novel sees a dangerous,pride-filled contest between companies and a rather frightening artefact take centre stage. Keep those bone mirrors away from me please.

Meanwhile the skull trapped in the ghost jar that has been the subject of many of George’s experiments, has begun to converse with Lucy and that’s not even the scariest thing to happen. Oh I devoured this with the appetite of someone who’d given up sugar for a month, then found themselves in a cake shop. It was over all too soon. Lucky for me, the next adventure is lined up and waiting.

5 out of 5 – in a hurry to embark on the next adventure

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

"And because extreme psychic sensitivity is almost exclusively found in the very young, this meant that whole generations of children like me found themselves becoming part of the front line."

This book just made my day, my month, possibly my year. It has been way too long since I've dived into a world created by Mr Stroud - the Bartimaeus Trilogy. I loved the dark humour of that genie saga and now this new series is all about ghosts - sign me up. Some of the best young adult fiction is characterised by the fact that it appeals to all. There's no attempt to dumb things down for a younger audience. Stroud does this superbly. Often the subject matter can be bleak, dark, dingy, damp and/or life threatening. Come on, I know you too are chomping at the bit to explore this also.
Young Lucy Carlyle's first job, didn't quite work out the way she would have liked and so now she seeks employ with a small, unknown agency - Lockwood & Co.
The eponymous, Lockwood is also young, tall and rather mysterious. Joined by the annoying George, the intrepid trio are set for adventures with a capital A.
Breaking the rules can be dangerous, staircases might scream, lockets may hide secrets and ghost monks can really ruin your day. Don't listen to me though, crack open a copy and just enjoy. I've already started the sequel and have the rest on order!

5 out of 5 things that go bump in the night can be adventurous.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan

"It was not long before the kitchen was a place of stench and clouds of flies."

Dead bodies and incest, yet this is quite the cheerful read - I'm being facetious. Published in 1978 the central action is, as someone noted on, reminiscent of Flowers in the Attic. Think that mixed with a side of Stephen King and you'd be right on the money.
I was reading this on the train on my phone, it is relatively short and yet one feels rather awkward when the content includes sibling sex and rotting corpses - gross on all fronts.
Fortunately it is well written and constitutes yet another tick on the 1001 books to read before you die list...hurrah!

4 out of 5 times when the parents away the kids will play.

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

"He would not have to bother any longer with a white boy who would never really be a mighty hunter."

This children's tale from 1983 sneakily drew me in. If you'd have told me a tale of a young settler in frontier America making friends with a local Indian tribe would have me hooked, I would probably have been quite incredulous. I'm rarely engaged by the western genre and yet this was delightful. Prepare yourself for a slim volume that convincingly transports you back in time, to the struggles of a young child awaiting the postponed arrival of his family and learning to survive in a challenging environment.

5 out of 5 - don't hunt near the sign of the beaver.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Long Cosmos by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

"No more was said until the shuttle closed in on the Brick Moon, and docking latches rattled shut."

It has been a lengthy reading journey of steps to arrive here at the fifth and final novel of the Long Earth saga. A journey which sadly saw the passing on, to that ultimate intergalactic journey, but one of the co-authors. Unfortunately the final instalment seems to lack the typical Pratchett humour that I know and love. Having said that, the troll makes for some amusing interactions. I love that he has tenure from Valhalla University.

Perhaps the final novel isn't the best of the series, however, it is still vastly entertaining and well worth a read. Not just for someone who aims for series completion.
There are some intriguing conceits within regarding the kind of  interaction that might occur should humankind meet more progressive beings.

Artificial Intelligence, new worlds and a command to "join us; embark on an adventure that will unearth new worlds and familiar faces.

4 out of 5 steps was a band in the nineties wasn't it?

The Girl, Marilyn Monroe. The Seven Year Itch and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist by Michelle Morgan

"The reaction Marilyn got from many male party guests was of a lecherous nature, but from female guests it was something else entirely."

I received a free pre-release electronic copy from netgalley for review purposes and, given my keen interest in the subject matter I held high hopes. I was waiting to learn something new and exciting that further supported the title's description of the screen goddess as a feminist. 
It is difficult to provide new insights into a personality that is so well known. Much has already been made of Marilyn and her attempts to be taken more seriously as an actress, her tumultuous love affairs and her short-lived life which ended all too abruptly. While this book delivers a functional treatise which is easy to read, it does not seem to add too much more to the existing Monroe canon. I wanted to love this so much more that I actually did.
The notion of Monroe as an unlikely feminist stems from her efforts to take a leading role in her destiny through her creation of her own film company and her ability to overcome unfavourable conditions by using her fame as a bargaining chip. Here was a woman who recognised her box-office worth and used it, when required, to her advantage.

The book appears to be well researched and eloquently delivered. Notwithstanding, I expected a little more in terms of interesting tidbits.

3 out of 5 people don't keep their panties in the icebox.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

"For a moment I wondered what it would look like to see inside of her, all the red."

How timely that I finished reading this novel just as it took out the inaugural MUD Literary Prize for Debut fiction - you know how I do love to read a prize winner!
If you are familiar with the Lizzie Borden story, or like I was prior to reading this - vaguely aware of an infamous axe murder that gave birth to a gruesome children's song, you will perhaps begin with a greater awareness of what is going on here. I think that might detract from the story a little as much of the creepy mood comes from the sense of uncertainty supported by a group of very different narrative voices. Should you wish for some historical background, you may wish to check out the following link

I particularly enjoyed the insight into Schmidt's writing process at the end of the novel by her essay How to meet the Bordens. 

To return to the story, prepare yourself reader for some grim and unsavoury proceedings be they poisoning, vomiting or the main subject matter of the grizzly murders of Abby and Andrew Borden. Is Lizzie to blame, she certainly comes across as disturbed. Come to think of it the whole family is a little disturbing. Who do you believe when none of your narrators seem to possess a firm grip on reality, or,  whose motives seem tainted by the need to escape or to wreck havoc?

Funnily enough, I had recently watched an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode with the same subject, the episode is called The Other Sister and provides another interesting take on the infamous events that occurred in 1892. Ironically a murder tale that just won't die, more recently being brought to life by Christina Ricci. Perhaps the mystery that surrounded the deaths, the gruesome nature of the attacks, and Lizzy Borden's acquittal combine to provoke the  incredible longevity of this murder mystery and the continued interest in it.

It is perhaps a sign of how scary this particular novel is that I had trouble getting to sleep when I finally finished reading it in the wee hours of the night. Every bump in the night had me on edge and it took 2 sessions of a meditation app to finally get me to sleep. I will avoid Pears  and Pigeons for a little while longer.

5 out of 5 - Don't mess with a girl's pigeons!

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"For weeks, Ifemelu stumbled around, trying to remember the person she was before Curt."

The experiences of a young Nigerian woman who moves to America to study and begins a blog about race in America, are so far removed from my own. I've not had to suffer for the colour of my skin and certainly not in the ways so keenly described here. The novel is an interesting combination of observations of inequality mixed with a love story and a tale of growing up in a foreign place. The idea that you grow to embrace your environment and that alienates you from your beginnings as your world view changes.

Ifemelu and Obinze's stories occur in parallel and are markedly different, as they both move from Nigeria to the USA and the UK respectively. As the physical distance between them grows, so time and experiences drive further wedges and yet despite all the obstacles, the central premise is that their love will somehow overcome.

Perhaps one of the aspects I loved the most was the dark sense of humour that pervades. Ifemelu is such an interesting character and her motivations really only become clear late in the proceedings. In any case, her trials and tribulations made for a captivating read and actually made me look forward to public transport journeys for the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the tale.

5 out of 5 -  my blog is nowhere near as enlightening.

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

"From where I sat opposite Bill, he looked to me like the Byronic ideal of male beauty"

This is one of those rare occasions when the hyperbolic quotes on the cover are completely accurate. I've had this sitting on my to be read pile for quite some time now and I deliberated over starting it because I thought an art world drama might be a little too cerebral. I had no notion of how striking the writing would be. I was totally drawn into Leo's world and felt like I was experiencing his life first hand.

The novel is split in three and they mirror very different stages in the main character's life. Art historian, Leo buys a painting of a woman that leads to a friendship with the artist that will see their lives inextricably linked. Whether it be lustful urges or the realisation of the depth of paternal love he feels at the birth of his son Matthew, I was swept up in the tale. The minutia of daily life was delivered in such a palpable fashion.

The second volume completely floored me with its tragic event and the aftermath of it. I feel it would be way too much of a spoiler to go into detail. You'll just have to read it to see what happens.

Feeling despondent, I moved on to the final section and wow. A heady mix of deception, paranoia and suspense as Leo's interaction with Bill's son, Mark takes centre stage in the drama. Is he a psychopath? Has there been a murder? What is the deal with the artist, Teddy Giles? So many questions that kept the pages turning at a quickening pace. This is one worthy inclusion on the 1001 books to read before you die list.

5 out of 5, nothing but love for it.