Sunday, 30 March 2014

'Tea and Primroses' by Tess Thompson - $0.99 promotion!

From today, the 30th, until the 5th of April, you have the chance to get Tess Thompson's 'Tea and Primroses' for just 0.99 !

Nothing is as it seemed in calm, quaint Legley Bay.  
Famous novelist, Constance (last name) lived a seemingly straightforward – if private – and somewhat predictable life. Friends, beloved daughter Sutton, a beautiful home, and all the success an author could wish for. A perfect life….but was it? When a hit and run accident suddenly takes her mother’s life, Sutton finds hidden secrets with her heartbreak. Emotional walls she assumed Constance had built to protect her privacy may have been to protect something – or someone – else entirely. 
Family and friends return home for support, including her own lost-love, Declan. He’s the first thing she craves to help her cope with her loss and the questions she’s left with, but he’s also the last person she wants to see. Will he be able to put down roots at last? 
Can the loss of true love be the making of a life or is it destined to be the undoing of everything? When money, power and love combine across time, anything is possible.
About Tess:
Tess Thompson is a novelist and playwright with a BFA in Drama from the University of Southern California. In 2011 she released her first novel, Riversong, which subsequently became a best seller.
Tess Headshot 1Like her main character in the River Valley collection, Tess is from a small town in Oregon. She currently lives in a suburb of Seattle, Washington with her two young daughters, Emerson and Ella, and their puppy Patches. She is inspired daily by the view of the Cascade Mountains from her home office window.
Tess is working on her next novel and regularly blogs about her journey as a mother, author and friend at
Check her out on Twitter and Facebook
and the book on AmazonBarnes & Noblesand Itunes!

Sound interesting? Check out the prologue here and then hop on over to any online bookstore and get your own copy!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Review: 'Bryant & May - The Bleeding Heart' by Christopher Fowler

18160222When I was around fourteen I went through an intense phase of loving detective and crime fiction. I practically devoured Elizabeth George's novels and loved the thrill of being terrified by the bad guys and saved by the good ones. This fascination waned off as I focused more on literary fiction but every now and then I still pick one up to entertain myself and see whether I'm still up to figuring out who the bad guy is before the end. This was definitely an enjoyable, if very different, detective read.
Their first case involves two teenagers who see a dead man rising from his grave in a London park. And if that's not alarming enough, one of them is killed in a hit and run accident. Stranger still, in the moments between when he was last seen alive and found dead on the pavement, someone has changed his shirt...
Much to his frustration, Arthur Bryant is not allowed to investigate. Instead, he has been tasked with finding out how someone could have stolen the ravens from the Tower of London. All seven birds have vanished from one of the most secure fortresses in the city. And, as the legend has it, when the ravens leave, the nation falls.
Soon it seems death is all around and Bryant and May must confront a group of latter-day bodysnatchers, explore an eerie funeral parlour and unearth the gruesome legend of Bleeding Heart Yard. More graves are desecrated, further deaths occur, and the symbol of the Bleeding Heart seems to turn up everywhere - it's even discovered hidden in the PCU's offices. And when Bryant is blindfolded and taken to the headquarters of a secret society, he realises that this case is more complex than even he had imagined, and that everyone is hiding something. The Grim Reaper walks abroad and seems to be stalking him, playing on his fears of premature burial.
Rich in strange characters and steeped in London's true history, this is Bryant & May's most peculiar and disturbing case of all.
I had never heard of the Bryant & May series, but apparently The Bleeding Heart is the 11th book in the series. A problem with reading a book from halfway through a series is that a lot of the character development already happened. I touched upon this in my review of The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley. In the case of this book, it made it quite hard to get into the book at the beginning because all of the characters were showing traits that normally would have been explained or introduced but were here assumed familiar. An unexpected bonus of this, though, was that you got to see the characters as "they really are". The only way I can explain this is by example. When you're introduced to a new group where the others already know each other really well you learn much more about the people by observing how they treat old friends rather than by experiencing how they treat a stranger. Similarly, all the characters were acting "naturally", which endeared them to me. I loved the interaction between all the characters, the way they bickered, the way they came together, etc. In detective novels, and TV series, there is a set of stock characters which always pop up. There is the tough female cop, the old and strange cop who is full of wisdom, a boss pushing for results, etc. In The Bleeding Heart I feel all of these characters did appear but were given something of their own.

I really enjoyed the plot of this book. Detective books can be quite similar in the way they're set up because at the beginning a crime happens that will be solved by the end of the story. But the chemistry between the characters and their unique outlook on investigating gave the rather stereotypical narrative a surprising and fun angle. Rather than focusing on the high-end computers that can identify finger-prints in a matter of seconds, Bryant's & May's team seem to do their policing in an old school way. I loved the way that the novel worked its way from informal meetings to non-approved property searches and back to the most chaotic office ever to be described. It gave the book a feel of homeliness and reality that many other detective books miss. While reading it, there was a sense that the reader could be involved in this himself, whereas a lot of detective stories are so detailed and abstract that I comfortably sit back in the knowledge I'll never be chased over the Alaskan highlands by a pen knife wielding maniac who has been stalking me and my family for the last decades. Something I also majorly enjoyed was the descriptions of London. I myself lived in London for a while and I recognized many of different places and streets down which they ran. Sometimes, when a book is set in a city you know you find yourself wondering whether the author has been there himself/herself because they don't seem to get the feel of the city right. Fowler describes London perfectly. It is both vibrant and new, but also has its dark nooks and corners in which gang culture is rife and the strangest characters pop up.

It was also genuinely nice to see how all of the different narrative strands came together. The graverobbers, the hit and run, the birds, all of it somehow comes together but not until the last two or three chapters. At some point I was wondering whether Fowler would be able to bring it together in a satisfactory way, but about three-quarters in I started suspecting who the suspect may be and I have to say I was very satisfied with how the end came about. There were plot twists I didn't see coming, some of which, however, didn't really shock me either. And this is where the only flaw in the novel should be discussed. Although I enjoyed it, I wasn't very involved with the book. It seemed to tick all the boxes; identifiable characters, interesting plot line, amazing setting, etc. but something just left me slightly cold. Perhaps the reason is that I started well into the series or maybe it is because the main characters are both relatively old men, but I didn't really connect with the book.

I give this novel...

3 Universes.

I doubted for a bit whether to give it 2 or 3 Universes out of 5, but eventually went for 3 because I would recommend this book. It is a fun read for on the side, full of little bits of legends and stories, but if you're looking for an intense crime read that will sweep you away, this is not it.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Review: 'A Love Like Blood' by Marcus Segdwick

I don't know what I was expecting from this novel, but the strange obsession and fascination that I felt for it while reading it is definitely not it. I was attracted by the cover, mainly, and on Netgalley it stated that this was Sedgwick's first adult novel after a row of YA novels. I wondered how the transition would work.
'I've chased him for over twenty years, and across countless miles, and though often I was running, there have been many times when I could do nothing but sit and wait. Now I am only desperate for it to be finished.'
In 1944, just days after the liberation of Paris, Charles Jackson sees something horrific: a man, apparently drinking the blood of a murdered woman. Terrified, he does nothing, telling himself afterwards that worse things happen in wars. 
Seven years later he returns to the city - and sees the same man dining in the company of a fascinating young woman. When they leave the restaurant, Charles decides to follow...
A Love Like Blood is a dark, compelling thriller about how a man's life can change in a moment; about where the desire for truth - and for revenge - can lead; about love and fear and hatred. And it is also about the question of blood
Compelling is probably the key word when thinking about this novel. There is something absolutely fascinating about it that is at the same time repelling and yet you can't put it down. Much of that strange fascination probably has to do with how the main character responds. You can't help but follow Charles Jackson through the first part of the novel and share in his bewilderment, both at the cruelty of the war and what he witnesses in Paris. The seeming calm that enters his life afterwards made it initially hard for me to identify with Charles, largely because he seemed to become a very lethargic character. In retrospect, it is clear that Sedgwick made him thus in order to be able to rouse him into action later on. This action comes in the form of Marian, a woman who pulls him even deeper into the mystery surrounding what happened during the War.

Here is where I feel I should compliment Sedgwick on the transformation from YA to adult novel writer. Although I have never read his YA novels and therefore can't judge them, in general YA novels are very heavy on the star-crossed, for now and forever, teenage love which strips most narratives of any kind of credibility or grit. In A Love Like Blood, Sedgwick makes his character's feelings for Marian and others part of his motivation, rather than his goal. What I mean by that is that Charles Jackson doesn't act a certain way in order to achieve love or because of love, but rather that he makes the love he does or doesn't feel work in his advantage. Considering this novel deals with vampirism, another big YA favourite, I definitely had some (negative) preconceptions when I started this novel. There is only so many stories you can read about them before you're convinced you've read them all. A Love Like Blood completely surprised me. The narrative is not what you expect. It is darker, lacks the romance and somehow infuses a sense of realism into something that deals with something so absurd as vampirism.

Segdwick's descriptions of locations greatly added to the mood of the novel. 20th century Paris sounds fascinating, whereas Avignon sounds terrifying. The relative calm of Cambridge is juxtaposed with the vibrant yet dangerous London. These contrasts work together in forming a changing and moving world in which Charles has to manoeuvre between the world of academics and a world in which vampires and back alleys seem more common. Although I wanted to read the novel and read it compulsively, I don't know how much I enjoyed it. This is quite a difficult question because you don't always enjoy reads that you do appreciate and think of as good. While reading Goat Mountain by David Vann, I didn't enjoy it because it seemed too terrible, too real. Afterwards, however, I felt that I had gone on a journey and that arriving at the end of it I felt I had learned something and was the better for it. When I finished this novel, I appreciated it but I didn't feel changed by it.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

At times I am too nice in my "grading" because I prefer to reward good things than look at points to improve. The reason I gave this novel 3 Universes is because it was good, but not amazing. It was a good read, funny at times, dramatic and shocking at others, but at times I missed the wow-factor, the moment where I would be blown away. The ending was probably be intended to make me sit back and gasp, but I saw it coming and therefore it didn't work on me. But I do recommend it as an interesting read!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Review: 'Watership Down' by Richard Adams

As a child, I remember looking through a picture book that held 250 stills from the 1978 animated movie of Watership Down. It was one of those things that I grew up with, coming back to it occasionally and leafing through the now slightly tattered pages. It is from this book that I know Watership Down, but I had never read the actual novel until now. One of the reasons I put it on my 100 Classics list was because I knew I had to read it, but had grown slightly complacent knowing that I at least knew the plot a little.
A phenomenal worldwide bestseller for over thirty years, Richard Adams's Watership Down is a timeless classic and one of the most beloved novels of all time. Set in England's Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of rabbits on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of brothers, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society
Funnily enough, I regard this book with an enormous amount of childish affection despite not really knowing the plot until I picked it up almost two weeks ago now. By choosing rabbits as his anthropomorphic characters, Adams might have accidentally tied himself with Beatrix Potter for a lot of children, although I seriously believe the two couldn't be further apart. What Adams creates is a reflection of human society on an animalistic level, stripping away many of our social restrictions that have nothing to do with actual natural instincts. There has been a lot of criticism about how Adams' tale treat the does (female rabbits). What I really appreciated was that the story had been stripped, to a certain extent, of love and romance. Although not entirely eliminated from the narrative, it was kept to an almost practical yet affectionate level. The rabbits are much closer to their natural instincts than we humans are and I think Adams was possibly trying to show how society's conventions problematise many of our instincts. Hazel is attempting building a warren, for which he needs does. For the does it is natural to want to reproduce as well, as I think it is with women as well, only it is expressed through cooing over little children etc. There is, as such, nothing romantic about this, but the danger through which the bucks put themselves and the fact that these does are a critical part of a warren, which can't function without them, shows how in Adams' perfect society, gender equality and relationships aren't restricted or forced.

Reflecting humans by replacing them with animals in a narrative is nothing new. The Greeks did it in Aesop's Fables and Animal Farm is a more modern classic using the same technique. Adams, however, combines this with an incredibly catalogue of tales and references to a cultural background. He treats these rabbits and their society as if it was completely equal to ours. What he doesn't mention as interesting or different therefore is assumed to be the same as for us. There are some chapters in this novel in which one of the rabbits, Dandelion, tells stories and myths, and although some might say these break up the narrative, I think they're a stroke of genius. Usually these chapters come when the rabbits are agitated or just before a big plot point and it really helps to set the atmosphere. As a reader, you are grounded and get a bit deeper into "the rabbit world".

I really liked all of the different characters among the rabbits. It is easy to throw them all together in a group, but each of them had distinct qualities that separated it from the others and made it a vital part to the warren. Fiver holds a special place in my heart since he is a 'seer', which means he sometimes has visions or feelings relation to things that will happen in the future. He foresees something will happen to their old warren yet he can only convince few to run away with him. By creating a character like this, Adams introduces a sense of mysticism to the novel. Combined with the culture Adams creates for these rabbits, Watership Down almost takes on a fairytale-esque quality. When I told my housemates I was reading this book some said they remember it as the first book they read. I've been thinking why you would let a child read this book because surely they would miss all of the subtext. But the beauty of this book is that it can be understood on many different levels and something can always be taken away from reading it.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

This novel is an absolute classic. There is a quality to Adams' novel that enchants the reader and makes the 300-odd pages fly by. Each of the characters has intrinsically human character traits and yet remains a rabbit. What unfolds is a tale of epic proportions to them and yet it seems innocent to us. Because of this, the novel is a very good lesson in how subjective stories and tales are. I'd definitely recommend it, to everyone.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Following Blood

It's another Friday, hallelujah. Weekend and I can't wait to just sleep! Now, onto my Friday memes! Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Rose City Reader and Freda's Voice. This week I'm using Love Like Blood by Marcus Sedgwick.
In 1944, just days after the liberation of Paris, Charles Jackson sees something horrific: a man, apparently drinking the blood of a murdered woman. Terrified, he does nothing, telling himself afterwards that worse things happen in wars. 
Seven years later he returns to the city - and sees the same man dining in the company of a fascinating young woman. When they leave the restaurant, Charles decides to follow...
A Love Like Blood is a dark, compelling thriller about how a man's life can change in a moment; about where the desire for truth - and for revenge - can lead; about love and fear and hatred. And it is also about the question of blood.

'Dogs are barking in the night.He's somewhere in the broken village on the hilltop opposite me.'
I like the way this sets the mood a bit. From the synopsis, I'm gathering it's quite a dark book so starting with a night-set chase is a pretty good idea!

'She nodded, but I wans't really listening to her reply, because two other thoughts had hurried into my mind.The first was this: blood. Of course it would be blood.'
I feel like there is going to be a lot of blood in this book.

Love letters from the Front - Literature of the First World War

I have been slacking terribly these last two weeks when it comes to this series but all my Friday's were strangely busy. But now I've got something different for you guys. In this "series" of First World War Literature, in which I am discussing a piece of literature or art, inspired by or created during the First World War up until the 28th of June, the anniversary of the assassination on Archduke Franz Ferdinand, for many marking the beginning of the First World War.

This week I wanted to do something a little bit different than the last few weeks. I have discussed some poetry and some novels and all of these are attempts by authors to work their experiences into a narrative. As such, they go through a layer of interpretation and change and I thought that for this week, and possibly the next few, it would be interesting to look at letters. I will be talking about the first two letters from this article in the Guardian. What I love about these letters is that rather than show how the War stopped or changed everything, they are proof of how certain things will always occupy human minds and how things like love will always occur.

The first letter the article discusses is by Dora to Cecil, a school friend who is now a lieutenant and surprised her with a marriage proposal when he was at home recuperating before returning to the front. I feel her letter expresses perfectly both the fear and prospect that came together during the First World War. On the one hand, she is terrified because the future is so uncertain and she has just realised that her own emotions aren't even really under her control. On the other hand, the first line,
I have come into that little wood and am sitting under a tree only about 10 yards away from where we sat together and you asked me to marry you
comes across very composed and calm. If you think about the letter as a literary piece of work, this spot in nature is very much at the centre of their relationship. By going back there, Dora has already, in some ways, shown how attached she is not only to Cecil but also to the memory of them together. Going there helps her think and clearly, since the 'sitting' is in present tense, she is writing from there. This suggests that although the letter still seems to convey doubt, she has already made up her mind.

The way Dora describes her realisation of her love is beautiful to me. Having gone from her daily life but still being a regular presence, she had never really thought of Cecil with anything but a liking. Upon her understanding the danger he is in she clearly re-assessed her feelings, no matter how clinical that sounds. I think it is incredibly honest to admit that often love or affection come from realising you might not be able to have something you have been used to. One of the things I find so unnatural about a lot of contemporary romance fiction is that immediate love in which there is never any time apart. Absence does make the heart grow fonder if there is love there. It is only natural, therefore, that Dora now fears that Cecil doesn't love her as much as she loves him. Her love is fuelled by the fact she had to stay behind and has to wait, uncertain of what will happen, whereas she probably thinks of him as in the middle of the heat of battle.

His reply to her letter might be one of the sweetest things I've ever read in a letter. Whereas I can imagine that to some extent her letter must have hurt him, since she admitted to not really loving him before, he tries to comfort her from afar. The way he describes loving her, 'together with my Mother and my Father and my honour, but on a different scale altogether', shows how deep his affection is. One painful aspect of the exchange is the presence of the War and the fact that Cecil feels he should not have asked her during the conflict because he feels it put pressure on her. Here, I think, we get to see quite a different aspect of the War, one we didn't see in any of the other literature so far. Clearly these two are only just out of school, yet they are already coping with massive issues and feelings. I feel that their trepidation and possibly fear can be deduced from the way they word their letters. Both are very careful in their word choice, as if they aren't sure how to express themselves without changing something minute yet important.

It will hopefully make all of you happy to know that Cecil did survive without any bodily damage and the marriage happened. Some things simply can't be stopped by violence.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Review: 'Faeries, Elves and Goblins' by Rosalind Kerven

I picked this book up on Netgalley because I have an absolutely love for any kind of myths. But there is a special place in my heart for Goblins, who are just deliciously mischievous and wicked.
Faeries, elves, goblins, leprechauns, brownies, spriggans and many other supernatural beings leap vividly off the page in this collection of 25 haunting stories and folklore from the rich narrative heritage of Britain and Ireland, including authentic historical material dating from Anglo-Saxon times, the early Middle Ages and the 17th Century. Marvel over ancient spells to summon faeries to your house, tremble at the shapeshifting powers of dangerous faery queens, lose yourself amongst the illusions of Faeryland and learn how to protect family members from the terrors of faery abduction. Interspersed with spotlight features on faery folklore, these tales cover faery morals, elvish misdemeanours, the spells cast by goblins and the sightings of the creatures, as well as their dealings with mortals.
With charming illustrations from favourite illustrators throughout, including Arthur Rackham, this book reminds us of the enduring appeal of folklore and mystery for all generations.
I absolutely love any kind of fairy story or mythical tale. I remember that we used to have a collection of stories from all across the world and I spent days reading them all and finding comparisons and loving how similar and yet different all of the tales were. This is also one of the things I love about this collection of 'Old Stories'. Collected from all across Britain, the stories share certain characteristics with most fairy tales and created, for me, a sense of how united people really are by stories like these. The same traditions and "rules" are followed by all the storytellers all across the world and when people come together and share stories they always find something that unites them.

It is hard to review a collection of short stories because you can't discuss all of them and when you like all of them, like I did, it also hard to pick out some to talk about while ignoring others. So I'm just going to try and make some general points. I really liked the representation of women in most of the fairy tales. Often, the role of women becomes quite stereotypical or submissive. They are the ones for whom the tales are written, to warn them off certain behaviour or to advise behaviour of a different kinds. The stories in this collection spread nicely across both genders and both found themselves sometimes the wiser and sometimes deceived.  Rosalind Kerven has a very nice writing style that flows very easily and all of the stories are a pleasure to read. I would recommend this book both as personal reading, as for me, or as a gift to a child. The stories and the writing style suit themselves beautifully to being read out loud.

The only minus point to this collection would be that the stories can become a bit repetitive when they are all read in a few sittings. Because they have been collected from all over, the characteristics of the stories differ, but goblins are largely seen the same way everywhere. If you are a fan of these kind of stories, that should not stop you. If you want to read a story every once in a while, this is also a great collection. If you already know a lot of the traditions etc. then you might want to look into different collections.

I give this collection...

3 Universes.

I loved reading the stories and I really liked how they had been collected from all over the UK. The design of the book was also beautiful and I think it would be a great addition to any bookshelf. The only minus point it shares with all other fairy tale collections: all the stories share an elemental theme and reading too much of it at once can become repetitive.

Harry Potter Moment of the Week - Favourite Magical Disaster?

It's another Thursday, which for me has come to mean that it is time to reminiscence about Harry Potter again. This meme is hosted by  by Uncorked Thoughts, so head over there to join in on the fun! Today's moment is about:

Favourite Magical Disaster?

I have a feeling this one is going to be popular, but one of my all time favourites has to be Gilderoy Lockhart messing up Harry's arm in The Chamber of Secrets. It just always makes me laugh out loud, especially Harry's expression.

Even Hermione was offended at Lockhart's apparent inability to do anything right. I remember reading this in the book and just being so grossed out at the idea of his arm just flopping about. And thankfully the movie scene didn't disappoint me either.

Something I always loved about the movies as well was their desire to never let a moment pass without blowing something up into Seamus' face.

So, what is your favourite magical disaster? Tell me in the comments or leave a link :)

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Review: 'The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches' by Alan Bradley

I picked this book almost on random and completely unaware that it was part of a series. What intrigued me was the idea of this eleven-year old girl who uses chemistry to figure out crimes. I myself, although even below the novice level, love chemistry and the things it can tell so I was very interested. 

On a spring morning in 1951, eleven-year-old chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce gathers with her family at the railway station, awaiting the return of her long-lost mother, Harriet. Yet upon the train’s arrival in the English village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia is approached by a tall stranger who whispers a cryptic message into her ear. Moments later, he is dead, mysteriously pushed under the train by someone in the crowd. Who was this man, what did his words mean, and why were they intended for Flavia? Back home at Buckshaw, the de Luces’ crumbling estate, Flavia puts her sleuthing skills to the test. Following a trail of clues sparked by the discovery of a reel of film stashed away in the attic, she unravels the deepest secrets of the de Luce clan, involving none other than Winston Churchill himself. Surrounded by family, friends, and a famous pathologist from the Home Office—and making spectacular use of Harriet’s beloved Gypsy Moth plane, Blithe Spirit—Flavia will do anything, even take to the skies, to land a killer.

I absolutely loved Flavia! She was so much fun to read as a character because despite being an incredibly intelligent eleven-year old, she is still an eleven-year old and I really liked that. In a  lot of modern YA fiction, I feel like authors forget the age of their characters. They have sixteen-year teenagers declaring undying and passionate love to each other, forgetting that in real life no one would take them seriously. I was incredibly pleased that romance is something that hardly infiltrates Flavia's world. Bradley really paid attention to keeping her mind and thoughts as close to as they possibly would be, while managing to keep me surprised at every turn. This would also be the moment where I express how much I loved the family-relationships in this book. The three sisters reminded me of my sister and me, the secret codes, the slight jealousy that exists between all sisters and the sudden realisations about how much they loved each other. Bradley really nailed this chemistry. The figure of their father is also very well sketched and his grief and how it is described in this book is beautiful.

As I said above, I didn't know this was part of a series, although the tagline 'A Flavia de Luce Mystery' possibly should have given it away. Occasionally it can be difficult to get into a series when the character-development is already underway because you can't appreciate where a character is coming from. Although I clearly missed some of the initial exposition, within the book I got both an idea of where Flavia came from and where she could be heading. Another aspect of reading a book in a series is that some of the plot development is also left for later. For example, I would have appreciated a little bit more explanation at the end of the book because I felt that Flavia herself might need more explanation. But I'm expecting most of that will happen in the next books. I really enjoyed Bradley's writing style. It flows very easily and manages to infuse life both into deeply emotional moments and "action" sequences. There is some mystery and tension, but there is also moments of quiet, all of which work with each other beautifully. The descriptions of Flavia's home really help to set the scenes.

I give this book...

4 Universes.

I was thinking about giving it three and a half Universes but since that doesn't exist I decided to round it up to four. The biggest compliment I could perhaps give this book is that I definitely want to read the rest of the series. Flavia is a delightful character that has an enormous amount to offer to every single reader. I can't wait to see how this relationship develops. I recommend this novel to everyone who enjoys a light mystery with a lot of potential.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Review: 'Hyde' by Daniel Levine

I had to study the original The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde last term at university and wrote an essay about how an enterprising scientist such as Jekyll form a greater danger to society than "normal" criminals like Hyde. I wish I had been able to read this book in November because it provides incredible and new insights into this classic tale.
A reimagining of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from the monster's perspective, Hyde makes a hero of a villain. As a bonus, Stevenson's original novel is included at the back. 
Mr. Hyde is hiding, trapped in Dr. Jekyll's surgical cabinet, counting the hours until capture. As four days pass, he has the chance, finally, to tell the story of his brief, marvelous life.
I haven't used the entire synopsis given on Goodreads because I think it gives away a lot. Part of the attraction of the novel is that although some things are known, others are a mystery. This is why I would argue that previous knowledge of the original definitely adds to the reading experience. Knowing what has to happen adds and kind of desperate tone to the whole narrative and moves Hyde into the category of the classical Tragic Hero. He is a flawed man, seriously so, but many of his flaws cannot be helped. The obsession with evolution and scientific progression, combined with Victorian anxieties, makes for an explosive mix in which the "birth" of Hyde becomes the catalyst for the unraveling of relationships and attitudes which may always have been fake.What I really enjoyed about this adaptation was the way it seemed to explore how "evil" really was created and what exactly evil is. It seems really straight forward in the original, but here crimes and criminals seem to abound once one begins to realize everyone has something to hide. Where The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the perfect moral allegory for the Victorian age, with its beautifully balanced and defined good versus bad, Daniel Levine's Hyde serves as a mirror to our own age in which the boundaries between good and evil are blurred and there is more grey than black or white.

Levine's writing is one of the aspects that make this novel amazing. Having to compete with Stevenson's writing is a hard task, which is why it is good Levine chose to go for a more direct, more intimate style that avoids the narrator-hopping that the original did and creates a London full of back alleys and Gothic mansions. The way the text flows, the reader becomes more and more trapped in the narrative. Similarly to how a web slowly closes around Jekyll and Hyde, the reader gets caught up in the intrigue and mystery of the novel. Where the original always left me slightly detached because Stevenson switches from one narrator to the other, giving the reader a number of different angles all of which still come to the same conclusion regarding Hyde. Levine introduces a number of new characters and expands upon some existing ones, allowing the narrative to become whole rather than a one-sided story which does seem to be in favour of Jekyll over Hyde.

As adaptations go, I generally don't enjoy them. Often I feel like the authors only try to add sensationalist plots, such as murder or any other crime, without actually adding anything more to the characters than the original book did. I know that this is a generalization and not true for many books, but it might explain why I am so enthousiastic about this one. I was not expecting it to be so strong independently. At times I forgot about the original and accepted Hyde as a much more fascinating main character. I think this is a pretty strong feat on Levine's part. There are certain aspects to the backstory he creates for Jekyll where Levine digs quite deeply in (Freudian) psychology. I guess these are up to the readers' taste. I thought Levine's additions to the original worked and really added a new level to the story.

I give this novel...
4 Universes!

I decided not to give this one five, although I was seriously considering it. In my eyes it is close to overshadowing the original but I don't know whether that is because I've just finished it and am in heaven or because it is genuinely that fantastic. What I can say is that I will buy it. I think this is a valuable addition ot my bookshelves and yours.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Weekly Overview

I have never done one of these, but I am definitely starting to see the use of them. I don't think I've done too much this week, I've definitely missed some of the memes I would've normally done, such as Teaser Tuesday or Booking Through Thursday. Also, a very distinct lack of reviews but reading takes a surprising amount of time. But don't fret, next week there will be a few!


So, what happened in your week?

inSPIREd Sunday and Chagall

I saw this meme on a different blog yesterday and just really fancied giving it a try. It's hosted on InSPIREd Sunday Meme, so hop on over there to join! The rules are simple:
  1. The meme opens each Saturday at 3 p.m. Pacific Time until Monday at 9:00 a.m.
  2. Post a picture of a church, temple, or other fabulous architectural building where religious services are held. If you know the name of the building, include it.
  3. Include the InSPIREd Sunday link and/or badge on your post.
  4. Visit others who are linking up to meme whenever possible.

So, I want to share with you an absolutely beautiful yet tiny church in Sussex called All Saints' Tudeley

As you can see, it looks absolutely adorable yet rather innocuous on the outside. It's only one and a half hour car ride from London and when we went it was a very sunny and warm day last year. What makes this tiny church incredibly special is only revealed on the inside. 

As its website states, All Saints' Tudeley is the only church in the world that has all its twelve windows decorated by Marc Chagall, a brilliant Russian artist who is known for his modernist, stunning paintings and decorations. I personally love Chagall because the way he works with colour is absolutely beautiful. In these windows, he depicts some of the most important Christian imagery.

Here, for example, we see the dove. What I love is the way the blue, the purple and the white interact with each other. The dove seems to escape from the darker coloured right pane, into the lighter left pane. I am going to end it on this note, because I am not an art critic and will only embarrass myself in stumbking over my own love for Chagall.

Have a good Sunday!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Following 'Hyde'

Alison Can Read Feature & FollowI'm loving all the sun that is currently blessing England with its presence, although apparently it won't last. Damn you, clouds from Scotland! Anyways, let's get on with these memes, the first of which actually has to do with the weather. Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee and the question is:

Spring is in the air! Show off your favorite outdoors reading spot. If you don't go outside...well where else do you read that isn't inside your house? We want pics!

Can't believe this question comes up on the day that I have abandoned where I live for London! Now I can't take any of the pictures. I have had to resort to Google to find pictures of my university so they're a bit fancy but oh well. The picture below is a photo of the park that is on my Uni campus. There is a lake, there is a tiny island with trees and benches, there is a walk around etc. The big building in the middle is one of the campus buildings that has a surprising amount of places to eat such as a Salad Bar, a Chinese and even a Chicago Pizza place.

I love reading in the park, because it is just so nice and relatively quiet, except for the occasional sports societies running around on their jogging trips, which I honestly can't complain about. Other places where I have really enjoyed reading this year is at the Starbucks in town.

Yes, this picture is shamelessly stolen from my own Instagram and I have no idea which filter this is, but hopefully you can see the benefits of reading at Starbucks: a large Latte and a Rocky Road! I managed to read All Quiet on the Western Front and The Plague in Starbucks!

18222768Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Rose City Reader and Freda's Voice respectively. This week I am using Hyde by Daniel Levine.

A reimagining of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from the monster's perspective, Hyde makes a hero of a villain. As a bonus, Stevenson's original novel is included at the back. 
Mr. Hyde is hiding, trapped in Dr. Jekyll's surgical cabinet, counting the hours until capture. As four days pass, he has the chance, finally, to tell the story of his brief, marvelous life.
I haven't copied the entire synopsis from Goodreads because I feel it gives away quite a lot

'Henry Jekyll is dead.I whisper the words and then listen, as if I've dropped a stone into a well and await the plunk and splash...But inside my head there is only silence.' p.1
It seems to be a rather definite beginning and shouldn't be a spoiler if you've read the original The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. But I'm reading the book right now and it is slowly turning out not to be as simple as the beginning makes it out to be. I am really starting to feel sorry for Hyde, to be honest.

'The Gullet was the proper name. The  place was dark and narrow and at the back fell down a steep staircase to a basement room.' p.56
I love the descriptiveness of this book so far. Levine is really managing to paint a picture of the city and his characters in such a way that he sticks with the dark tone of his book and the original, yet infuses them with life.

If you have the time, I'd love for you to stop by my "tour" of the amazing website Forgotten Books!

So, where do you like to read outside the house? And which books are you using for your memes?

Browsing for Forgotten Books

Most of you will be pretty familiar with Project Gutenberg, a website that gives you access to thousands of books for which the copyright has run out. Personally, I have found Project Gutenberg occasionally hard to navigate or to find books I really want to read and the layout of the website isn't really helping either. Which is why I was ecstatic to find Forgotten Books, a website with a similar aim yet updated and with some amazing features. I have to add, before I take you on a tour of the website, that I was given full access to the website through a membership so I could give you a look at all its features.

To begin with, I just love the name of the website. If you come to my blog frequently you probably know that I'm a sucker for classics and slightly obscure books and the idea that some of these books are forgotten over time and simply never read again physically pains me. The fact that websites such as Forgotten Books try to bring these books back into circulation makes me incredibly happy. Now, onto the actual website!

I love the look of the homepage. It looks both elegant and clear, which is a major help because it can be quite difficult to know how to look for books sometimes, especially when you're going for classics and you're not quite sure what category or genre they might fall under. The categories on the left side range from something as general as 'Poetry Books' to the rather specific 'Administrative Records'. What I really appreciate about this website is its academic potential, but I will get back to that. When selecting a book from, for example the ones shown above, you come to the following page:

Ingeniously, Forgotten Books allows you to access your books from a whole range of different mediums. You can download it onto your computer as PDF, send it to your Kindle or read it on the website. They're currently in the process of designing an app for your mobile, which will only increase your access to the books. I also love that they've included links to Amazon because although it is incredibly useful to be able to access your books from your tablets etc., sometimes you just want a physical copy to hold and love. When you scroll down you come to the following features:

Besides letting you add your own review, Forgotten Books provides a summary (useful, yet standard) and some details regarding the date of the book etc. It also lets you download a sample of the book, which, when you're not quite sure whether this is what you want to read, is very useful. What is quite special, at least in my eyes, is that it provides a citation for you. If, like me, you are studying then this website and its books can be incredibly useful. Just like Google Books it gives you access but where the previous fails, Forgotten Books gives you a clear and precise way of referencing what you have used rather than letting you guess. Now, onto the actual reading experience. As shown above, you can choose to read the book online on the Forgotten Books website. All of this so far can be done without signing up for a membership!

What I like about the way the book is presented is that it looks as if you're reading an actual book. Whereas the versions you get on Project Gutenberg can sometimes look a bit mangled, most of the versions on Forgotten Books are clear, digitized pages from actual books that are easily readable. I personally really like this because I love seeing original fonts and ways of printing. The Online Reader allows you to flick through the pages easily and bookmark the specific page you're on. My favourite part of this feature, however, is the ability to get quotes from the book.

When pressing the quote mark button, a window opens up with a copy-able version of the text. Once again, it also provides different ways of referencing the book at the bottom. I find this is incredibly useful. Although you may not need it when you're simply looking for fiction books to enjoy reading, but when you do find yourself wanting to quote a book, Forgotten Books makes the process a lot easier. I find reading on the Online Reader quite enjoyable, but if it's not your thing, you can always download the book.

As states above, for some things you need a membership. Some books can be downloaded for free and there is a Free Book of the Day as well, a feature to which you can subscribe and each day you'll receive an email telling you which book is free. Another free feature is the Image search. Are you looking for books containing certain images, say Universes?

Apparently the man with the impressive moustache, third picture from the left and the right, is Theodore Phillips who wrote Hutchingson's Splendour of the Heavens; a popular authoritative astronomy, a book you won't stumble over as easily on the internet but you will easily find on Forgotten Books.

Another amazing feature is the ability to look up Word Data. Forgotten Books has created its own algorithm which allows you to access data from all its English language books written between 1500 and 1945. This allows you to look at the frequency of certain words in relation to others words, books or over time.

I personally love this feature because it is so closely related to some research I did for a project of mine on Author Identification. Some of the data they show as an example is related to Shakespeare and Francis Bacon.One of my favourite graphs shows that around 1600 both authors were mentioned roughly equally, with Shakespeare slightly outshining Bacon. Surprisingly, Shakespeare seems to practically disappear after the the mid 1600's whereas Bacon goes through a kind of comeback.

What counts for all features is that a membership will allow you access to more books, more data and more results. Here are the costs for the different memberships:

  • $2.99 per month for 10 books a month
  • $4.99 per month for 100 books a month
  • $19.99 per year for 10 books a month
  • $35.99 per year for 100 books a month
Considering many of the books on Forgotten Books are free, I feel that these prices are relatively fair. What also helps is that the money earned goes back into improving the site, which is one of the reasons it is so much more accessible and has so much more to over than websites such as Project Gutenberg. Personally, this website will be a major help during University and I feel it is a major asset to anyone who wants to root around a bit and see what kind of books have been forgotten over time.