Red August by H. L. Brooks

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On the cusp of womanhood, August Archer wakes up from powerful erotic dreams of werewolves to find her real life is even stranger, more violent, and more passionate than she ever could have dreamed in this modern-day telling of the Red Riding Hood story.

Hlbrooks.com

An adult retelling of beloved fairytale Little Red Riding Hood by author H. L. Brooks. Like the classic, there is a young girl named (August) Red, a grandmother living in a questionable, foliage bound residence, some pretty terrible parenting and of course the dangerous wolf with big eyes, big ears, big teeth and in this case, a rather large something else…

Unlike the story we all know and love, Red August contains a beast which is not entirely human nor entirely wolf, an errant mother who is definitely hiding something and an apothecary lady who deals in some rather unsavoury substances.

This is certainly a tale for the grown ups and not one that I would snuggle down to with my nephew and/ or niece of a Sunday eve. In other words there’s LOTS of sex in it. I don’t see this as a bad thing (so long as it’s true to the character, you can write whatever the heck you like my friend), but some people can be put off by this kind of fiction. If that’s you, Brooks has written a very interesting blog post explaining why there is quite a bit of sex in this book which you can read here.

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I enjoyed the way that Brooks played with the well known story, bending the rules a little so that we could see alternate angles, and introducing us to characters and their backstories to enrich the experience.

My favourite element of the book is the setting. The deep dark woods with the flowing stream, which encompasses Grandma’s quaint if generously proportioned home. Then there are the occasional references to the family’s homeland, Scotland, which wasn’t explored nearly enough for me.

Like all good books, Red August is awash with mystery and intrigue. As we slowly unravel the family secrets, and learn more about Red’s past, her current situation does make more sense but I wanted more. I sometimes felt a little out of touch with what was happening, but I guess that’s how Red must have felt among her family for a little while.

For a writer, an amazing part of the storytelling process is to share an important message that transcends the superficial storyline and reaches readers on a personal level. Bearing this in mind, I think Brooks has missed a trick in this book. (Dear author, please do forgive me for the next paragraph if I’ve interpreted this wrong. I feel inclined to tell you here that I am on a very tight schedule what with me being very busy and important with work and studying. Also, last night my cat decided that I was not looking nearly fancy enough for slumber and so he rolled himself out into a furry wrap and donned my chest, stretching from shoulder to shoulder, and proceeded to purr with volumes to rival the deepest thunder, between the hours of 3am and 6am making me a very sleepy human today.)

What I mean by that is I feel that the author sometimes glosses over some of the heavier subjects. Allow me to illustrate. Towards the beginning of the book, following an intense bout of bullying, August is sexually assaulted in a most brutal manner by a boy from her new school. This whole episode is soon forgotten however when the rest of the story kicks in. There is no mention of this violent, sexually explicit experience later on, even in relation to August’s many sexual fantasies and later on in her intimate encounters with Faolon.

Whether this is to demonstrate August’s resilience to the mental effects of the attack (an attribute worthy of her new found family history?) or whether the whole incident is an example of unnecessary background information on the author’s part, I haven’t quite worked out yet. I’m inclined to go with the latter. The boy who attacked August is left out of the book altogether, once he has been ruthlessly dealt with. There is already so much going on in the book that this episode serves little purpose but to paint August as an unfeeling robot, which of course we know she isn’t. It could also be construed as a way to show August’s protective relationship with her mother (as she shields her mother from hearing about her attack) but their relationship is shown in various other ways anyway.

Either way, it adds a certain darkness to the story.

I enjoyed the whole concept of the Red August. You guys know I bloody love a fairytale with a modern twist.

I look forward to the next instalment of the Red August series, which I believe is due out in 2016!

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Thanks Heather for sending me a copy of Red August to read and review.

Decentring Classics: Bringing Minor Characters to the Foreground with Alison Case

Good morning book fans.

Just thought I’d take a moment to tell you about a really fun day I had a few weeks ago. A small group of writers gathered together at Ponden Hall, the house that inspired Emily Bronte to create Thrushcross Grange in her beloved novel, Wuthering Heights. This was part of a range of events celebrating the Bronte Festival of Women’s Writing.

Workshop

Led by Alison Case, author of Nelly Dean, we delved into the lives of some minor characters of classic novels. Most people chose to write about Bronte characters. We talked about Bertha Mason, Mrs. Reed, Helen Burns, Adele Varens in Jane Eyre; Isabella Linton, Zillah in Wuthering Heights among others.

Being in the inspirational home of the Lintons, I felt drawn to Isabella and wrote a short piece for her. During our discussions about Isabella, we explored her motivations with a strong emphasis on her childish idealism. We also talked about Emily Bronte’s opinion of Isabella and came to conclusion that she probably didn’t like her very much. I was interested in the influence on Isabella of the gender norms and values in her society. She had very limited options as a woman living in a rural location. She would have felt all sorts of social pressures from her family and while she is portrayed by Bronte as being a heady cocktail of downtrodden, masochistic and selfish, I like to think that there’s a little bit of self-assured control in there as well. Yes, she made some unusual choices and reveled in the torture of young dogs, but she was moulded into the creature she became by societal pressures. I wanted to give her a voice that cut through all the incidental evidence we have about her through the eyes of Lockwood and Nelly Dean.

Here is Isabella at Thrushcross Grange, a few weeks into Cathy’s lengthy sojourn, following being caught by the dogs as she spied on the Lintons with Heathcliff. Isabella is writing in her journal.

Mrs Phillips is bringing tea and cake into the room. Again. I am busying my mind and hand in this activity so that I will not be tempted to indulge her fancy that I love her cooking or that I shall remain so petite with such richness in my belly. There Edgar goes taking his fill. He is feigning a deep interest in a small volume of Shakespeare. I know not who he is trying to impress. That wild child will no more step inside the house than I would step out of it today. Unlike my deluded older brother, I see very clearly where Miss Cathy’s heart belongs and it most assuredly is not with poor Edgar. Do not mistake me; I do not sympathise with the fool. Pity, perhaps, but pity cannot survive where the seeds of triumph take root and flourish. All in time. There is no malice, no real harm. We are siblings and therefore share a healthy rivalry. But all rivalries must one day declare a victor, only in our case perhaps a “Victoria” is more apt a term? My! How clever I am. One day, perhaps I will share this tome with H. What fun we shall have as we pore over these pages and find new ways to ridicule our respective siblings and their pretentious marriage. Of course we will likely stay away from the Grange for many months. While I am while sure my H will be as devoted to me as he is devilishly charming, I cannot trust Cathy, for what hold can my poor insipid brother have on her affections when such a man as H is present. Of course I plan to trust H implicityliy but care must be taken. C is wild and uncouth. I must not expose H to that. And of course, once the marriages are made and homes established I shall be declared winner. For I will have H, who is wanted by C who is wanted by E, all the while being adored by Heathcliff. It is such a plan. And now I think I will eat some cake after all.

Alicia Bruce, September 2015

I was largely influenced by the amazing array of homemade cakes that were brought out for us, mid-session. I think I heard every single participant say that this was the most beautiful writing workshop they had ever been on. I concur. Look …

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Can’t wait for next year’s Bronte Festival of Women’s Writing! 

While we’re on the subject, I believe there will be a celebration of all things Bronte at the Huddersfield Literature Festival 2016 which runs from 3rd to 13th March 2016, so keep an eye out for that.

Nelly Dean by Alison Case

Nelly Dean

Young Nelly Dean has been Hindley’s closest companion for as long as she can remember, living freely at the great house, Wuthering Heights. But when the benevolence of the master brings a wild child into the house, Nelly must follow in her mother’s footsteps, be called servant and give herself to the family completely.

But Nelly is not the only one who must serve. When a new heir is born, a reign of violence begins that will test Nelly’s spirit as she finds out what it is to know true sacrifice.

Nelly Dean is a wonderment of storytelling, a heartbreaking accompaniment to Emily Bronte’s adored work. It is the story of a woman who is fated to bear the pain of a family she is unable to leave, and unable to save.

Harpercollins.co.uk

This is one of those inescapable titles that once seen must be immediately bought. Being a fan of anything Bronte with a particular adoration of Emily Bronte and her masterpiece of a novel, Wuthering Heights, how could I not read Alison Case’s Nelly Dean?

My attention was first brought to this book at a Huddersfield Literature Festival committee meeting in August. I was very innocently handed a flyer regaling the events taking place as part of the Bronte Festival of Women’s Writing. Before said meeting had begun, I had very efficiently purchased a ticket to the writing workshop with Alison Case (more on this in a later post) and downloaded Nelly Dean onto my kindle. Oh technology, how I love thee.

A Professor at Williams College in Massachusetts with an academic background focused on Victorian Studies, Narrative Theory and Gender Studies, with several publications well respected in her field, Nelly Dean is Alison Case’s first novel.  Her expertise and love of 18th Century novels clearly comes across.

Nelly Dean was everything I expected and more. Case delves into life at the Heights, enriching Emily Bronte’s flawless story with expertly imagined back stories. She gives Nelly a stronger voice and deeper experiences while taking nothing away from Bronte’s original characterisation of the beloved house keeper.  In this, Case explores other minor characters from Wuthering Heights. This gives us access to individuals in the village that were overlooked in the original stormy love story on the moors. I was particularly blown away by Nelly’s relationship with Hindley and the ensuing complications; the enigmatic elderly woman with a penchant for potions; Nelly’s industrious mother and wayward father; the explanation of Mr Earnshaw’s adoption of Heathcliff; and all the inhabitants of the tightly knit community on the Yorkshire Moors.

If you’re a Bronte fan, you will adore this book.

Storytime with Joanne Harris at Huddersfield Literature Festival

Joanne Harris HLF2015 image c. Kyte

Photo by Kyte Photography

Its Huddersfield Literature Festival time again! Yay! On Friday 6th March my excellent friend Ben and I visited the cellar of the Lawrence Batley Theatre where  Joanne Harris made her contribution to the festival with a new and exciting project, which she called Storytime.

Joanne began the evening by introducing the concept of her Storytime. She had joined Twitter a few years ago and started telling stories on it because that’s what she does; tells stories. If you are a twitterer I’m sure you’ve experienced these bursts of stories of a slow day at work, while “researching” that important thing you were supposed to be working on ….

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 Joanne was not alone on her stage in the cellar of the LBT. As well as a range of lighting and colourful projections to accompany each story, she had a band of helpers. Literally. Her stories were accompanied by a drum set, guitar, keyboard, bass, a flute and other miscellaneous percussive instruments.

Following Joanne’s introduction, we were treated to a musical introduction from the band. They played a beautiful song including the lyrics ‘There is a story the bees used to tell, long ago, long ago…’. This is how Joanne begins each of her twitter stories. The music, composed I believe by Joanne’s husband, was rather haunting. The melody was calm and lilting but with a dark edge to it. It was almost like accepting a warm invitation but once inside, a minor sequential cadence tinged with a sceptical coolness wrapped around the room, trapping us all inside. ‘…long ago, long ago, which makes it hard to disbelieve.’

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Photo by @Cat_Lumb

Each story once told was summarised in musical form by a song or an instrumental. Who knew that Joanne Harris was such a talented flautist? As a writer and flautist myself (show off) I have never considered putting the two together. But that’s what the whole evening was about; challenging storytelling norms. There was one point when Joanne leaned towards the mic without her flute where I was worried that she was going to sing. Then she did. And I was pleasantly surprised. What a beautiful voice. But writers aren’t supposed to be singers. Writers are solitary creatures who only surface once in a while to sign a few books and push the boundaries of blood to caffeine ratio.

I think there’s often a supposition about what people should be and how we identify with them. This is a philosophy that Joanne is trying to dispel. A lady in the audience asked the question “In your short stories tonight and actually in many of your novels, there is a feeling of ‘seize the day’. Would you agree?” Joanne did agree and she talked about this at some length.

When I saw her at the Huddersfield lit fest last year (where she was talking about her excellent book The Gospel of Loki) she made the point of saying that she didn’t subscribe her writing to any particular genre, preferring instead to tell her stories and letting them land where they land.  So it is with her Storytime on Twitter. The stories had been ephemeral in nature, flying through the twittersphere and being sporadically caught by readers. Now the stories are being saved and collated and are even being published soon in a book titled Honeycomb. But that all came from sitting down and telling a story in a different way.

The stories themselves were often quite dark, again belying the apparently safe, cosy nature of ‘Storytime’. My favourite was about a toymaker (I think he was a toymaker. Or a carpenter. He was a handsy sort of person anyway) who one day, noticing that his once lovely wife is no longer perfect, sets about fixing her to his satisfaction. A poignant parable about the struggle for unattainable perfection and (as my friend Ben surmised) the throwaway, consumeristic way that many of us live our lives. Thought provoking stuff.

All in all, Storytime was a magical evening. It was very refreshing to see a writer not only thinking outside the box, but dispelling said box altogether. An amalgamation of stories, music and theatre, Storytime with Joanne Harris and friends is something that I would certainly like to see more of.

There are still many fun events to get involved with in the Huddersfield Literature Festival. You can find out about it here.

 

P.S. Joanne, it was very lovely to meet you again. Thank you for signing one of your books for me. Should you need an additional flautist and/ or keyboardist for your future projects, I am always available. I’m really good. And sometimes modest.

P.P.S It was also very lovely to meet Jennifer and Lynne of Kyte Photography. You should check out their book of famous people from Yorkshire ‘Yorkshire Made Me‘.

The Quest of the Unaligned by A.L. Phillips

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In the city of Tonzimmel, where hover-cars zip over anonymous crowds, contracts are king, and education is everything, Alaric has worked hard to make a decent life for himself. As a level nine security chief, he needs no one and nothing, and is in control of his fate. Or so he thinks.

When a stranger from neighboring Cadaeren suddenly appears, however, babbling of magic, quests, and long-lost princes, Alaric finds himself contractually obligated to undertake a journey that his training hasn’t prepared him for: the Quest of the Unaligned. Accompanied by Laeshana, a Cadaerian native who has reasons of her own for helping him on his quest, Alaric is soon plunged into a perilous adventure that will force him to confront a seemingly impossible truth and embrace his destiny, even as the fate of Cadaeren hangs in the balance.

Goodreads.com

Now with a title like ‘The Quest of the Unaligned’ you could be forgiven for expecting a biographical account of one book blogger’s mental health (how very dare you). As it is, the story that A.L. Phillips tells is much more adventurous and has almost as much magic.

A.L. Phillips hails from Pasedena, California and has a B.A. in Sociology. This little bit of background information about the author is quite interesting when reading ‘The Quest of the Unaligned” which revolves around the reluctant prince Alaric who stirs up a bit of trouble when he is ‘tricked’ into leaving one world and jumps head first into a very different one. Throw in an evil, disgruntled Cadearen-ite, a disillusioned monarchy and a beautiful love interest with the brains to rival Hermione Granger and you’ve got yourself a book!

‘The Quest of the Unaligned’ is very much about exploring social norms and expectations. The contrast between futuristic Tonzimmel and ye olde worlde Cadearen, transcends topography and fashion. There is also a distinct difference in the way people are treated and discriminated against; in Tonzimmel a person is respected for their achievements no matter their background; in Cadearen, there is a clear cut hierarchy that no amount of talent can change. Or so it is believed by the good folk of Cadearen. In walks Alaric …

‘The Quest of the Unaligned’ was very enjoyable to read. It feels like a classic adventure fairy tale with some spine tingling mishaps along the way and a happy ending. A heady mix of Fantasy and Sci-Fi, if you like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Shrek, Once Upon a Time etc. I think you’ll enjoy this book.

I would recommend reading this book curled up in your fave coffee shop of a quiet Saturday morning. With a pastry. Obviously.

The Quest of the Unaligned is available to purchase here. There are also some short stories available on Phillips website in which she delves further into the world of Tonzimmelian and Cadaeren. Should you wish to, you can follow A.L. Phillips on twitter and tumblr.

Thank you to A.L Phillips for sending me a copy of your book to read and review! It was a joy.

Six Short Stories by Jack Croxall

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A collection of six incidents, memories and curiosities. Some of these short stories are happy, some of them are not so happy. It’s difficult to tell whether any of them are related, such quandaries are never resolved easily. 

Includes the 2014 eFestival of Words Best Short Story, X.

Jack Croxall is a most industrious chap. He trained as an Environmental Scientist and now utilses his sciencey knowledge in his YA fiction and other writing adventures.  His latest YA publication, Six Short Stories, is a collection of, well, six short stories … does what it says on the tin.

There is a lovely range of narrative style and subject from ghostly happenings in the 1800’s to a post apocalyptic nightmare somewhere in the future and other charming tales in between.

I don’t want to give too much away, but here’s a little snapshot from each story:

1. Guardian angel. This is an uplifting tale that highlights that things are not always as bad as they seem. When all hope is lost there is always another option. And don’t be so sure about what you want; be flexible; be kind; be generous. Nice.
2. Rose Root. This a haunting tale about a rumoured ghost. Its told in the style of a newspaper article. The use of language is particularly evocative of the 19th century in which it is set. Spooky and realistic in its delivery. I like this one a lot.
3. Scruffy. This reminds me a little of the style of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. There’s something quite bittersweet about hearing a deeply tragic story from an innocent voice.
4. Space dementia. Jack takes us into deep space to talk about the importance of mental health. It’s about sharing, not bottling up feelings or secrets and standing up for what you believe in. A good story with a good message.
5. Tethered. Like Rose Root, this is another late 19th century setting. It is a short newspaper article that tells a big story.
6. X. A zombie story with a tragic twist. The hero is an unnamed teenage girl. We follow her in the final weeks of her life during an invasion of ‘uglies’. This was named Best Short Story in the 2014 eFestival of Words.

Six Short Stories showcases Jack’s ability to manipulate language to fit the story.  He goes from very traditional English to a child’s voice to a counselling session in outer space. Each story is wrapped up in the language used and each character feels genuine. I’m always so impressed with writers of short stories in how they can create whole worlds with so few words. Amazing.

I very much enjoyed Jack’s collection of short stories. I recommend reading in conjunction with a cuppa and a [barrel of] biscuit[s] of a lazy afternoon. Perfection.

Six Short Stories is available to download on 8th February 2015 for UK readers here, for readers across the pond here and for all peoples here.

Enjoy!

p.s. Thank you Mr Croxall for letting me read and review Six Short Stories.

 

 

Piano From a 4th Storey Window by Jenny Morton Potts

Right, everybody. Cease what you are doing immediately. Buy this book. Read it. This is a direct order. ‘Piano from a 4th Storey Window’ is stupendously brilliant. You need it in your life. And here’s for why.

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Lawrence Fyre and Marin Strang aren’t like other people.

He is the eccentric owner of failing Sargosso Books in the Brighton Lanes. She is an ex-Jehovah’s Witness and isolated Spanish teacher. If they live together in his illegal, beautiful, rope laddered lock-up, can their love overcome their losses?

Original, sexy, very funny and deeply moving. An author in complete control of a number of unforgettable characters and emotional highs and lows. Jenny Morton Potts leaves the reader breathless, and wanting more

The central characters, theme and plot are centred on relationships. Specifically, the relationship between Marin and Lawrence. We see the cross section of the whole thing from beginning to end and beyond. Marin is immediately intriguing in the opening pages. It is clear she has a past that even she is unsure what to make of. Throughout the book, Marin grows as she discovers the answers to some necessary questions. Meanwhile Lawrence is a relentlessly optimistic constant despite some rough patches along the way.  Together, they are perfection. Until they are not.

Much of the story deals with what it means to conform in today’s society. Jenny asks questions that I think we must all wonder about from time to time; is it ok to abandon one’s family religion if it means getting them in trouble? Is it ok to be friends with an ex? Is it ok to be friends with your partner’s ex? Is it ok to live in a lock up on an industrial estate without heating? (I think this is a standard no. By law). Is it ok to go for a very long jog on Christmas Day while the turkey goes cold (ABSOLUTELY NEVER).

Ms Morton Potts has such a beautiful way of neatly placing her characters into the world. The story is based mostly in Brighton and a little bit in the Orkney Islands. Then something happens about halfway through and the paradigm shifts so that while most of the story is still in Brighton, a large part of your consciousness is still floating around in upper Scotland. The two places couldn’t be more different and so perfectly complimentary of each other. So it is with Marin and Lawrence. If only they would realise this sooner!

What makes this book stand out for me is the obvious amount of research that has gone into it. There are quotes galore from all sorts of people and books. If you are a Jean Rhys and/ or Diana Athill fan, I guarantee that you will adore this book.

I really don’t want to say too much more. So much of the magic of this book comes from the little surprises that spring up from page to page.

I love reading and reviewing books by new authors. There are no expectations. To paraphrase Mrs Gump, reviewing new books is like a box of chocolates; you never know whatcha gunna get. I love it even more when a new author approaches me with a book she knows I’ll love. Jenny Morton Potts is one such author. I now bequeath her book to you dear readers, because I know you’ll love it too. I’m going to use a chocolate analogy now (mmm). Like the much coveted hazelnut whirl off of a Cadbury’s Roses box, ‘Piano From a 4th Storey Window’ will melt you inside and make you see that there is so much joy in the world. But! Out of the blue, you will bite down on a crunchy bit that you knew was there but had forgotten about, which will cause a little pain and make you want to cry. Anybody else experience these extreme emotions when rummaging around a box of chocolates? No? Just me?

You can (and should) purchase Jenny Morton Potts brilliant book here and here.

Let me know what you think. Enjoy!

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P.s. It is generally safe to read this book in public but I would recommend avoiding people in all quantities circa page 231. You will be a mess and you shouldn’t inflict yourself on anyone in this state. You. Are. Welcome.

P.p.s Thank you Jenny for sending me a paperback copy of your beautiful book for to read and review. Love it. More like this please!