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.

The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Anne Noble

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There is no cure for being who you truly are…

In a cottage high atop Llanfair Mountain, sixteen-year-old Clara lives with her sister, Maren, and guardian Auntie. By day, they gather herbs for Auntie’s healing potions. By night, Auntie spins tales of faraway lands and wicked fairies. Clara’s favorite story tells of three orphan infants—Clara, who was brought to Auntie by a stork; Maren, who arrived in a seashell; and their best friend, O’Neill, who was found beneath an apple tree.

One day, Clara discovers shimmering scales just beneath her sister’s skin. She realizes that Maren is becoming a mermaid—and knows that no mermaid can survive on land. Desperate to save her, Clara and O’Neill place the mermaid-girl in their gypsy wagon and set out for the sea. But no road is straight, and the trio encounters trouble around every bend. Ensnared by an evil troupe of traveling performers, Clara and O’Neill must find a way to save themselves and the ever-weakening mermaid.

And always, in the back of her mind, Clara wonders, if my sister is a mermaid, then what am I?

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I was first attracted to this book by its fairy tale influences and also mostly by its pretty cover. This is because I am a shallow human being and fully accept that dark side of myself that judges books (and all things in life) by their covers. I’m also going through a bit of a fairy tale phase at the minute. Can’t get enough. Sometimes you just need to immerse yourself in a world where dragons are pets and mermaids are credible beings. I think I read somewhere that this book was a re-invention of The Little Mermaid. (It is possible that I may have imagined this.) Aside from the fact that there’s a mermaid in the story that experiences some metamorphosis along the way, there is little similarity. This isn’t a bad thing. Noble’s story is much more inventive: she has dragons in her story, which Hans Christian Andersen failed to utilise. Rookie mistake. (Just kidding Hans. I adore you).

As would be expected, Maren the mermaid is devastatingly beautiful. Clara, her human sister, pales in comparison, or at least this is what we are led to believe by Clara’s first person narrative. At first I felt sorry for Clara. It must have been hard for her growing up with such a stunner as her sister.  Believing herself to be second best both physically and competently, Clara defensively clings to propriety and manners. But the favourable reaction that she provokes among the male characters indicate that she is being somewhat of a self-deprecating attention seeker. Because of this, I didn’t particularly warm to Clara but I did want her to succeed in her mission, if not for her, for the people around her.

There are lots of clever little twists in the plot that link each character, whether they are main players or background fixings. Noble puts equal depth into all her characters, good and evil alike, creating a well-balanced narrative. She allows an empathetic experience across the board, exposing cruel Soraya’s compassion, and devoted O’Neill’s spineless indulgence.

The use of a first person narrative allows a steady, sing song like feel, which Noble sometimes steps out of with the use of dialogue and/or, (my favourite) when a character within the story tells a story of their own.  This is how we learn about Auntie’s past and how she came to live on Llanfair Mountain; a fairy tale within a fairy tale if you will. Very nice. All in all, an exciting, imaginative fantasy somewhere between the realms of The Night Circus and Shrek.

Can I just say (I can, its my blog) that there are a few negative reviews of this book on goodreads by people who have admitted to reviewing it despite only getting about 30% through. Not clever, people. Especially as a lot of the comments don’t even hold up if you read the whole book. I’m not against negative reviews, but I am opposed to bad reviews and bad reviewers who can’t even finish a book before ripping it to shreds. That is all.

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank me for buying this book so that I could read it and write an honest review about it. You’re welcome.

Sugar and Snails by Anne Goodwin

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At fifteen, Diana Dodworth took the opportunity to radically alter the trajectory of her life, and escape the constraints of her small-town existence. Thirty years on, she can’t help scratching at her teenage decision like a scabbed wound.

To safeguard her secret, she’s kept other people at a distance… until Simon Jenkins sweeps in on a cloud of promise and possibility. But his work is taking him to Cairo, and he expects Di to fly out for a visit. She daren’t return to the city that changed her life; nor can she tell Simon the reason why.

Sugar and Snails takes the reader on a poignant journey from Diana’s misfit childhood, through tortured adolescence to a triumphant mid-life coming-of-age that challenges preconceptions about bridging the gap between who we are and who we feel we ought to be.

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I want to start by thanking Anne Goodwin for asking me to review Sugar and Snails. It’s the first book I’ve read in a long time that provoked the words ‘I can’t actually believe that just happened’; ‘I did NOT see that coming’; ‘Orange is the New Black can WAIT! I HAVE to read the next chapter’ exit my mouth. For these reasons and some others, it’s one of the books that I have been most excited about reviewing since starting out on my little reviewing sideline. Its one of those books that I want to talk and talk about but because of my religious beliefs (Thou Shalt Not Provide Spoilers) its the one book that I can’t talk about at all! Because much like the classic Bruce Willis thriller The Sixth Sense, once you know the twist, you’ll never see it the same again. But I’ll give it a go…

Sugar and Snails follows Diana, a middle aged, moderately successful psychology lecturer. Despite her good education and a position at one of the top universities in the country, her head is firmly stuck in the sand, but is at serious risk of being dislodged through the efforts of an ever helpful friend and a prospective love interest.  The story is told through Diana’s voice. I’m not often a fan of books with a single voice, but I can’t imagine Diana’s story being told any other way. She narrates her life in the first person, with a graceful poise that transcends the upheaval that she has encountered on her journey. Goodwin delicately navigates through Diana’s memories and emotions with a nimble dexterity, gently guiding the reader as we plunge into Diana’s psyche with a tenderness that was never afforded our heroine. That is until we discover Diana’s secret around half way through when it feels as though we’ve sidestepped into a raging torrent of ice; not because of what the secret is, but because of Goodwin’s sudden shift from softly subtle to pointedly direct.

It is around this point that I realised how perfectly this book is written. With one sentence, Goodwin forced me to simultaneously question all preceding events while doubting my expectations for the remainder of the book. It felt like being frozen in a tangled crossroads of possibilities; a deer caught in the headlights moment, if you will, which is how I imagine Diana must have felt more than once throughout her life.

Anne Goodwin

The Author, Anne Goodwin

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Sugar and Snails is the  classic example of why one should absolutely never begin writing a book review before the reading of said book is finished. When reviewing, I always make a few mental notes as I read, thinking about what I’ll say about the book, themes I’ve picked up on etc. Inevitably, very few of my Sugar and Snails notes have proved useful due to the surprising turn of events circa 56% in (thank you Kindle with your ever precise page counting techniques), but there is one such note that I think is still valid. It is this: The book’s main focus is a decision made by a 15 year old, and the consequential lifestyle and doctorate research led by Diana about the ability of adolescents to make meaningful decisions. In real life, adolescents are made to make some of the most important decisions of their lives, especially with regards to their education and future careers. They also think that they are the only ones having to make these decisions and that nothing will ever be simple again and the world will probably end next Wednesday. I’m sure we can all agree that for the most part, these are all very correct and reasonable observations for teenagers to make. I therefore think it would be very useful to have this book available in all high schools. Either in the library or as part of a lesson taught by an open minded teacher who is not easily embarrassed. Because despite some controversial topics, or maybe because of said controversy, and while not everyone faces Diana’s dilemma, we could all be better rounded people for learning about said dilemma in order to support those who do have such a decision to make.

Sugar and Snails deserves to be pushed to the front of the queue in all book club reading lists. The depth of the characters and the intricate problems that they face will provide so many discussion points. Now that I know the twist, I am excited to reread Sugar and Snails and to pick up on the many muted clues sprinkled throughout the text.  So please, for me, read this book. If you can’t do it for me (rude) do it for you. Just go now. Buy it. Read it. Then come talk to me about it. Because it is absurdly brilliant.

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The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse

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Sussex, 1912.

In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to walk. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway.

Standing alone is the taxidermist’s daughter. At twenty-two, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it contains all that is left of Gifford’s once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed birds that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man. The string of events that led to the museum’s closure are never spoken of and an accident has robbed Connie of any memory of those days.

The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hands holding a garotte. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead.

While the village braces itself against rising waters and the highest tide of the season, Connie struggles to discover who is responsible – and why the incident is causing memories to surface from her own vanished years. Does she know the figure she sees watching from the marshes? Who is the mysterious caller that leaves a note without being seen? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Blackthorn House, hidden among the bell jars of her father’s workshop?

orionbooks.co.uk

Greetings book fans!

After an excellent week in Crete, I can think of no better way of re-submerging into real life than sharing a book review with you lovely people. So here is my review of Kate Mosse‘s The Taxidermist’s Daughter.

As per a previous post re holiday reads, I wanted a ‘once you pop you just can’t stop’ kind of book to accompany my holiday.  It had to be intriguing enough to keep my attention on a long flight (which began BEFORE the hour of 7am) but be accessible enough that I could  dip in and out throughout a busy week. Said week involved blood vessel bursting bike rides, thunder storms, bandaging fiance’s gross foot wound (true love), watching friends get engaged in the mountains, enjoying a spot of sunstroke, being embraced by an old Greek man with particularly moist arm pits that emitted a particularly pungent scent, drinking pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. (All of those things really happened). In addition, thanks to Mosse’s clever writing, I got some avian taxidermy and very strange murders thrown into the mix.

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Mosse said that she wrote this book after a long fascination with Taxidermy and I can see why. It certainly aroused a morbid curiosity in me. Mosse very neatly describes all the intricacies of the art of Taxidermy, unraveling each of the painstaking and often gruesome processes that makes a lifeless bird breathe again.  Mosse clearly has a high respect and interest in Taxidermy and she uses it beautifully as a metaphor for the life cycle of humans. The theme wraps around the characters, revealing their outwardly idyllic lives to be nothing short of a horror story. At the climax of the story, Mosse skilfully strips away the dead flesh and rebuilds the character’s lives into a beautiful tableaux, complete with a church wedding on a sunny day in which the characters can finally play happy families.  Just like the tableaux of birds that once sat in Gifford’s museum; finally resplendent even after the effects of death.

The quest for beauty is clearly an important theme in this novel. As well as the taxidermists in the story who aim to achieve beauty in their work, there is a portrait painter who loves to capture the beauty of his subjects.  All of this is set against a beautiful, if volatile country backdrop.  When I saw Mosse speaking at Harrogate History Festival a couple of years back, she talked about how her stories emerge from landscape. In Labyrinth, Sepulche and Citadel Mosse her inspiration was the Languedoc region in the south of France, which is described in some detail. Here, Mosse paints a vivid picture of the Sussex countryside out of which she draws her characters in such a way that they couldn’t possibly be anywhere else.

I am always a fan of Kate Mosse’s work and she has not let me down yet. If you haven’t tried her books before, or you found The Languedoc Trilogy not quite to your taste, I would most definitely recommend The Taxidermist’s Daughter. It’s a similar style to her previous work in that the voice changes chapter to chapter, but the theme is much darker than anything she’s done before; even counting The Mistletoe Bride.

Let me know what you think.

Alicia

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!

Shadow and Shade by Matt Gerrard

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Matt Gerrard is a blogger from Boston. On his blog, The Daily 400, Matt sets himself the impressive challenge to write 400 words every day. His first novel, ‘Shadow and Shade’ is a heady mix of fantasy, sci-fi, romance, wolves and mayhem with a few slitherings of the real world about it.

Here’s what you need to know about ‘Shadow and Shade’ (taken from The Daily 400):

Logan doesn’t just hunt with wolves. He talks with them. He can also see in the dark, heal, and feel the emotions of the forest itself. If only dating were so easy.

Marissa, the missionary’s stepdaughter, captivates him with her fiery spirit. Logan’s taste for trouble and strange ways fascinate her. Marissa’s stepfather fears that Logan will drag her into darkness with his heathen ways. Logan’s mother is outraged because she thinks Logan is abandoning the blood of their people.

Angry words turn to vengeful deeds. Logan and Marissa become ensnared in a web of bitterness that was spun hundreds of years before they were born. Blood demands blood, and it refuses to be denied.

The book is described as a fantasy novel with supernatural themes and otherworldly experiences. I found this to be accurate but it sometimes got a little bogged down with belief systems of the real world, particularly with reference to organised religion and the prejudices that it emanates into a community that doesn’t follow its rules. There are some very big themes in this book; religion, belief, love, being caught in a witch hunt (literally) and family all wrapped up in the workings of a community.

I enjoy the themes within the book; Gerrard talks about some important issues within his fantasy novel, but for me, this is eclipsed a little by the presentation.   This is definitely a YA book. Regular readers (hello to you) will know that I’m not a huge fan of this genre. To me, the simplicity of the language used can come across a little patronising. Events are often over-explained, leaving little for the reader to discern for themselves. I think particularly in ‘Shadow and Shade’ some of the themes are a little laboured. For example Marissa’s choice of living arrangements or Jon’s control issues. But then other more serious areas involving life and death (I won’t drop a spoiler) seem to be lightly skimmed over. This is not a personal attack on Gerrard’s writing, it’s just my opinion on the genre. Although I do think there is an over-use of the word ‘lad’ here. Also, it read more like a screenplay to me than a novel. There is too much dialogue, peppered with stage directions rather than prose. But don’t take my word for it, give it a read and see what you think.

If you enjoy your fantasy hero caked in mud and always ready for a fight, then ‘Shadow and Shade’ is for you. Its a good story, with a bitter sweet ending that resonates with real life.

Thank you to Matt Gerrard for sending me a copy of his book straight to my kindle. ‘Shadow and Shade’ is now available for you lovely readers to snap up here. Enjoy.