Going Underground: Neverwhere Review

91Zw9iS4sRL._SL1500_A quick review of a book that most people and their dog have already read a long time ago. There’s a reason for me doing one and it’s more for Neil Gaiman himself than for the story.

I’ll explain. I’ve read a fair amount of Gaiman’s novels and, of course, Sandman in up there for me as one for the greatest pieces of literature ever committed to the page.

Apart from Sandman though, I’ve always been a bit meh about his stories. Or not the stories so much as the delivery. He’s a great writer and I love his characterisation but… I feel like I should love him more.

So he’s become a running joke in our household, with Mr Bee trying to force feed me more and more Gaiman until I submit to loving him as much as he does.

It took me a long time to pick this up. American Gods took me about seven years to wade through and ditto for the Ocean at the End of the Lane. Both were okay.

This. Well, this was… brilliant!

I won’t waffle on too much about the Adventures of Richard Mayhew and Friends. Chances are you already know, you may be a long-term cheerleader for Neil Himself, as many of my friends are.

If you don’t already know then I don’t want to ruin it for you. You should read it though.

The brief synopsis is this: something happens one evening while Richard Mayhew is on his way to dinner with his new fiance. This something changes both their lives forever.

Turns out there’s a whole other London below the one we know; London Below. Rat infested, dark and twisted, this London is home to all manner of creatures including the wholly unpleasant Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar. There’s Door the waifish ‘door opener’ and the Marquis de Carabas, a charming but roguish chancer who may or may not be untrustworthy.

Then there’s Hunter and Old Bailey, The Serpentine Sisters, the Velvets and Hammersmith; all of whom may just change the way you view the underground map forever.

So, to Neil I say, thank you for this. It was amazing. It reminded me of Sandman in some ways and made me fall in love with your imagination all over again.

To Mr Bee: you win. This was great.

Hirsutes You, Sir: Campari for Breakfast Review

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Photograph does not belong to me

I was lucky enough to be sent my copy of this fabulous book by my friend Hannah of Hannah Reads Stuff. (Thanks again, Han!)

I have been in a cycle of devouring thrillers and crime novels for the past four weeks and must admit that I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave it.

However, Campari was sitting by my bed with its gorgeously bold cover and Hannah had said it was good so I knew it would be worth pressing pause on the adventures of Kay Scarpetta for a while, to explore another, more lighthearted, story.

Campari for Breakfast is amazing. Much like Where’d You Go Bernadette, I feel as though the caliber of characters, humorous writing and plucky, likable heroine all lend it potential to become a modern classic. Sue Bowl is seventeen and never been kissed, though she thinks about what it will be like and who it will be with a lot.

Sue has recently lost her mother and cannot get over the fact that her father has moved on with horrible Ivana, who has a penchant for car slippers but does not even wear them in the correct context.

This in mind she flees to live with her Aunt Coral in her ancestral home, Green Place, a sprawling yet crumbling mansion in the country. Here she gets to know her eccentric Aunt and her fellow housemates very well and uncovers a family secret or two along the way. Throw in first love, first kisses and first heartache and you have all the ingredients of a really fantastic story.

As Hannah says in her review, it’s hard to leave Green Place once you have devoured the final page of this lovely book. The bevy of strange characters, including the ‘villians’ are so vivid and so joyful that you sometimes feel part of the group, sitting sandwiched somewhere between one of the Admirals and a Nana (you’ll see).

I don’t want to say too much, as always with my reviews, as my habit of giving too much away is a bad one but this wonderful book and Sue touched me deeply. Not only is Would Be Writer Sue getting to grips with love and caring for her frivolous Aunt and her surroundings at the same time, she is also mourning her mother. The What Ifs and the Whys echo round the West Wing of Green Place and then the East like tiny spectres.

All you want for Sue are the answers she so desperately needs.

I cried, I laughed and I genuinely wanted a lot more of Sue and her friends. I hope there’s a sequel but failing that I will just have to pick up everything that Sara Crowe writes from now on because this book is the nuts.

Book details:

  • Campari for Breakfast
  • Publisher: Doubleday (10 April 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0857522159
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857522153
  • Gifted hardback

Flavia Flav: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie Review

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

My, my, my. What a book. Flavia de Luce might be my new favourite literary heroine of all time.

The Alan Bradley books were recommended to me by my brother some months ago and it seems my entire family had already deeply ensconced themselves in Flavia’s World before even bothering to mention it to me. (The cads!)

I’m sort of glad though because its always nice to stand at the doorway of something wonderful and know that you have a lot to dig into. All those books are there for the taking! I will have to pace myself of course, it wouldn’t do to gorge myself too soon.

The Sweetness is just lovely, conjuring up gorgeous imagery with its language. Set in 1950, it tells the tale of tenacious 11-year-old Chemistry obsessive, Flavia Sabina de Luce, the youngest of three girls and daughter of gruff Colonel de Luce.

Flavia’s main interests are pottering about her inner sanctum (her beloved laboratory), paying special attention to poisons and their effect; and plotting revenge on her sometimes cruel (but always hilarious) older sisters.

I love the to and fro between sisters and in some ways I want more from the domestic set up than I do the mystery since their family history is so rich. Colonel de Luce is a cold fish with minimal input in the girls’ lives other than to teach them to fear ‘the instrument’ (telephone) and to stare them down at meal times.

The girls’ mother has passed on, gone missing during a mountaineering trip in Tibet ten years previously. Despite this she, Harriet, is everywhere and mentioned often, at least she permeates Flavia’s inner monologue.

But to the mystery. One afternoon, the de Luces’ cook finds a dead bird on the door step, it’s beak piercing a postage stamp. Colonel de Luce damn near loses his shiz and withdraws completely, leaving Flavia to ponder why.

She doesn’t have long to mull it over though as the next thing we know she has discovered a body in the garden and all Hell breaks loose. Who was the dying man, as he had been when she found him, and what was he doing in their garden?

Well, this is where I shuffle off and you find out for yourself. All I can say is that Flavia is a fiesty girl with an eye for detail and I’m pretty confident you’ll be falling for her as hard as I did.

One of the reasons I like her so much is because she’s so fiercely feminist. When one of the Police Officers called to the scene dares to suggest she pop off to the kitchen to make tea and leave them to their investigation, she is outraged. Damn right!

Can’t wait for the next in the series, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. Did I mention the epic titles? The stuff of book lover’s dreams!

Book details:

*Please note: Photo is not mine

 

Cupcakes & Dreams: A Piece of Cake Review

tumblr_m1tpzwAFLa1qdbzgno1_400The thing about being in a #onewomanbookclub and reviewing the books you read, is knowing which ones to write about and which ones to let slip by.

I wasn’t sure if it was even worth reviewing this one, but then, when I mentioned I was reading it, lots of people proclaimed it was their favourite book or otherwise was “Amazing!”.

Which interests me, since I didn’t really enjoy it.

Based on the real life events in the life of Cupcake Brown, an eleven year old girl in San Diego, whose life takes a heartbreaking turn for the worse when she finds her beloved mother dead one morning.

A tale of a young child let down in spectacular ways by the system, beaten, sexually abused and ultimately left to fend for herself, it’s no surprise when she turns to drink and drugs to numb the pain.

I get that this is a tale of hope and that in the end Cupcake fights back, which is incredible; a story always worth reading. But, and I understand it’s a memoir written in the authentic voice of a young girl from the Ghetto, it’s terrible.

I can’t get on board this kind of prose at all. All the “then I said, he said this, then I said this and then, little did I know the tragedy to come” is not for me . The writing is horrific and the rambling makes dull, too.

That said, the fact that it’s completely unpolished made it more ‘real’ and says more about the strength of the story than the writing. I finished it because I wanted to know that how Cupcake came to save her own life.IMG_20140423_145125

I will say that for a while, I didn’t even like the main character. Beyond her very young years, Cupcake becomes a hard girl and it’s difficult to recognise the good heart within. This is justifiable of course, and had I experienced even a quarter of what she has in life, I’d be kind of a bitch too.

This all changes when she finally seeks help. The journey from waking up behind a dumpster to a life of total sobriety is not an easy one and she experiences many bumps along the way. But she gets there.

Although I just wasn’t that into Cupcake and her story, I did well up at the end and am glad I finished it. It’s a shame though because I wanted to love it more.

Sadly, I have read better, well-written books of a similar nature in the past and would probably recommend them over this. (I read a great one years ago and can’t for the life of me remember it’s name).

Book details:

  • A Piece of Cake: A Memoir
  • Publisher: Bantam (2 Oct 2006)
  • ISBN-10: 0553818171
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553818178
  • Bought paperback (secondhand)

True Blue: Special Topics in Calamity Physics Review

 

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I loved this book.

I bought it after reading Night Film and the subsequent reviews about that. Lots of them mentioned Pessl’s debut in glowing terms and, as I’d loved NF, I figured this would be a winner too.

It is, but in such a different way to Night Film that I don’t think you would know that both books had been penned by the same author. You know, if you didn’t know.

That’s not a bad thing though, much like being a good actor, I think it shows a tremendous range to be able to knock up more than one very strong novel with completely different voices.

Special Topics tells the story of Blue from her own perspective, after she has gone through ‘an ordeal’. This ordeal – we learn from the cover and also in the first chapter – is the death of somebody close to her. Blue finds her teacher, Hannah Schneider dead, hanging from a length of electrical cord.

Blue is the only child of arrogant academic, Gareth van Meer. Her mother was killed in a car accident when she was much younger. She is film and literature obsessed and the book is peppered with footnotes and references to classic novels, textbooks and cinema (some are fake).

She has been moved around the country, from state to state, school to school without much thought on her father’s part. But when they arrive in Stockton, North Carolina, Gareth agrees that they can settle for a semester or two, before Blue goes off to college at Harvard.

As they get comfortable in their new town, Blue attends St Gallway and falls in with the ‘Bluebloods’. This is manufactured by the school’s enigmatic Film teacher, Hannah Schneider, who is the object of much fascination for Blue; an intrigue that appears to be mutual.

The Bluebloods are a mysterious bunch who at first don’t warm to Blue,but eventually welcome her into the fold, giving her the moniker ‘Retch’. Charged up on mystery, the gang, minus Charles – who is alleged to have had a short lived affair with Hannah – begin to piece together a background for her.

Since she expertly dodges any and all questions about her own life at their ‘secret’Sunday dinners at her house, none of them feel they really know her at all.

9780141024325The question in this Whodunnit? is: was Hannah’s death suicide as the local cops have ruled it or did something more sinister transpire on the night Blue found her? And why are the Bluebloods so angry with Blue after the event?

Again, I have to say I loved Special Topics. It’s a read that doesn’t come easy though,where Night Film was devoured in a matter of days, STICP is a pace yourself read. All the ‘literary’ references take a bit of working through, and some of the anecdotes about Blue’s father come off as a little pompous. Which works, it seems he is exactly that.

I love all mention of the ‘June Bugs’ though, the nickname given by the van Meers to the poor desperate women who find themselves falling for Gareth,a man who dates a lot but believes in only one true love. In his case; already been and gone.

Incidentally, I watched a film recently (Stuck in Love) in which a character (played by Greg Kinnear) reminded me of Gareth van Meer. So if ever they do make this into a film, he’d be my Gareth. Not so sure about Blue: an unknown perhaps?

Read this book, it’s really well written. Yes, maybe it’s a little pretentious at times but since it’s main protagonist is a young women going through her rites of passage before our very eyes, madly in love with fellow Blueblood, the mighty Milton and trying to come to terms with who she is, it can be forgiven.

Blue is largely likable, as are her contemporaries on an individual level and I dare you not to be dying to find out what happens at the end. Will all your questions be answered as you turn to the last page? Will you ever find out what happened to tragic Hannah?

That’s for you to discover!

Book details:

Happy reading, fellow Bookworms!

Cougar Town: Tampa Review

tumblr_mufb49hg9m1rxe8zeo1_1280~TEENY TINY SPOILERS MAY DWELL WITHIN

What I really want to do with this review is write: It was okay, I laughed a lot – and then move on.

*Shrug*

I don’t know why my opinion on this story of Celeste, a middle school teacher with a penchant for 14-year-old boys would be so ‘meh’, but it is.

When I started it, I had high hopes. Since I am reading this a year after it burst onto the bestseller lists and shocked everyone with its controversial subject matter, I guess I had the luxury of enjoying it my way. You know, without being swayed by the hype buzzing around it.

And it delivered in some ways. Aspects of this book are genius. It is also very funny and at its heart is a protagonist so vile that you just don’t know what to do with your feelings toward her.

Celeste is married to Ford, a somewhat hapless cop who affords her the comfortable lifestyle and the expensive facial creams she needs to live. He also works odd hours which leaves her plenty of time to plan and execute the grooming of her pupil, Jack Patrick.

After carefully selecting the perfect victim? recipient of her tireless sexual attention, Celeste is rabid in her quest to quench her decade long thirst for nubile flesh. It’s not giving too much away to say that the inevitable sex scenes are graphic to the max and this is exactly how it should be. You can’t take such an unapologetic topic and then pussyfoot around the physical scenes.

I guess what I liked was the fantasy line her mind takes when she’s thinking about what is sexy to her. I also found myself sort of liking Celeste at times, despite the fact that she hasn’t a good bone in her body. Since the story is told from the point of view of Celeste herself, and that we learn this all via her own inner monologue, we are under no illusion about that.

She is blunt, calculating and vain, only too aware of how ‘unusually attractive’ good looks are perceived by the world. First by the opposite sex, then to manipulate other members of the faculty, including her grotesque colleague, Janet; through to the law and the media.

Incidentally, what is as shocking as the crime itself, it the notion that somebody so good-looking should not be treated in the same manner as other criminals, or that the boys she has groomed were more ‘lucky’ to have been picked than anything else (mostly male consensus there). Since this is inspired by the true story of Debra Lafave (and others), this angle is not so much a  fictional fabrication, more a depressing insight into the way conventional beauty is rewarded, or more appropriately, excused.

In the real world, of course you would never warm to a person like Celeste, yet on paper she’s a character that will stick in your mind, if not literary history.

So, instead of my original one line synopsis, I will offer this: When it is good it is very very good, but when it comes down to it, it skips the mark ever so slightly for me.

As Celeste begins to make clunkier life decisions, allowing lust to rule her, her life begins to unravel. Unfortunately, it’s round about here that I started to lose interest. Once or twice I was a bit like “Realllllllllly? This woman is monstrous” and not in the fun way.

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It is filth. It is shocking. It is interesting to read something like this from a female perspective and it is also fascinating to meet a woman who doesn’t show remorse, doesn’t apologise and when caught doesn’t reassess her life and then have a massive change of heart.

It’s well worth a read because it is well written and unfluffy, it’s about a female paedophile for shit’s sake! Again, I can’t stress enough how much it made me laugh, at times out loud.

Hell, make up your own minds but take the time if you can stomach it.

Guess I had more to say about it than I thought! For another insight into the same book, check out Hannah’s.

Book details:

  • Title: Tampa
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (1 Aug 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 057130334X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571303342
  • Bought paperback (secondhand)

Happy reading, Bookworms!

 

 

The Hangover Part 3

The measure of a good book is this:

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I got one after Life of Pi. I got a very bad one after finishing the Millenium series, and I’ve got one now.

Think I’m going to wait for Tampa to arrive before I start my next novel.

*Flips through comics on bookshelf*

 

Sovereign, Deadly, Perfect: Night Film Review

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I love this book and devoured it like a jumbo bag of sweet/salty popcorn. True story.

Compared by Good Reads to the works of Stieg Larsson, I knew it would be a read I would enjoy, although I hate those lazy taglines: “If you liked Gone Girl, you will LOVE this!”. Shut up, I will decide for myself!

The fact that the story is based around the life and times of an infamous, and reclusive, horror director and his family, made it even more intriguing for me.

Horror is my very favourite genre and growing up I would go out of my way to be frightened so although this isn’t as gory as I expected, the descriptions of the films of Stanislas Cordova have been right up my alley.

On this subject, I have to say, without giving anything away, the best bits in Night Film are those talking about Cordova’s films, and if not describing the various synopses, any anecdote about being on set with Maestro. A sinister mix of Hitchcock, Coppola and Argento, Cordova uses fear and pain as a means to total freedom; of the mind, body and soul.Thumbscrew

Were he real, I have no doubt I would be an avid Cordovite, spending my down time tip tapping away on the secret fan boards.

The story is this: 24 year old Ashley Cordova is found dead one night, having apparently committed suicide in an abandoned warehouse somewhere in the underbelly of NYC. She is the beautiful yet mysterious daughter of the (aforementioned) film maker, Stanislas Cordova.

Her death is senseless of course, but veteran Investigative Journalist Scott McGrath has his doubts about what really happened that night, and with his own personal interest in the Director, and a curiosity about Ashley he can’t quite explain, he starts to piece together the last few days of her life. But what is the truth?

And why won’t anybody talk about Cordova?

Woven into this really quite decent thriller are web pages, medical and police reports, articles, interviews about Cordova and postings from the dark corner of the internet, otherwise know as the Onion. These are most fun of all, as all manner of Super Fans share their Cordova theories and if they are ‘lucky’ enough, personal brushes with the man himself. Sure these segments are gimmicky, but who doesn’t like a little bit of that?

tumblr_mrxklqAQAy1sfwakko1_500I hadn’t read any reviews on Night Film before I picked it up, apart from that of my friend, Hannah (of Hannah Reads Stuff). I actually jumped straight on the back of her bandwagon as soon as I read the synopsis, because that’s just the kind of girl I am. Her review is better than mine for sure, but I thought it would be cool to review it from the point of view of a Hard-core Horror lover.

As for the whole Larsson comparison, I get it. In the sense that Scott McGrath is a disgraced journalist, found guilty of libel like my Beloved Blomvist. As a famous Journalist, he has gone slightly off the boil and he does enlist the help of some less than traditional ‘research assistants’, neither of whom, however likeable, would be fit to lick Salander’s motorcycle boots.

But that’s about it for me. The Millennium Series is perfect and addictive, everything you need from a nail biting ride and to compare anything else to it is a little unfair. Though personally, I think Night Film can proudly hold it’s head up.

I feel like I need a holiday now though.

Book details:

  • Title: Night Film
  • Publisher: Windmill Books (30 Jan 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0099559242
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099559245
  • Bought paperback (secondhand)

I am desperate for more books of a similar nature, so if anybody has any decent recommendations, please let me know!

 

Tried To Make Me Go To Rehab: A Million Little Pieces Review

I’m only a decade behind the hype on this quite hefty rehabilitation story by James Frey. Which might be a good thing.

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Several years after it was first published, its author came under fire for embellishing much of what happened within. Originally presented as a memoir, once this exaggeration came to light, James Frey became Public Enemy #1. Oprah had him on and everything, making him apologise to The World for his ethical misdemeanors.

Since I was aware of the controversy and everybody and their mum was going on about it, it was easy to shrug and let it slip by. But I saw it in The British Heart Foundation for £1.25 the other week and I figured now might be the time.

I am glad I picked it up. The copy I have contains a Foreword by Frey, apologising again for letting people down. I think it sounds sincere but I also think, what is the actual big deal?

I mean, yes I get that people have been through similar themselves, and to embellish what is already horrible and traumatic seems unnecessary but this is also a book. A book written for other people and a certain amount of artistic licence has be to be granted, non?

millionSo I’m not all that fussed about the faux bits. Bring it on, Frey, I say! Or I would of, had I met him at the exact moment I had picked this up and started it.

We begin with James waking up on a plane to Chicago, with a bloody face and next to no memory. We don’t know how he got here, all we know is that his parents are there to pick him up at the airport and without ceremony, they drop him on the doorstep of an unnamed Drug Rehabilitation Centre. They don’t actually dump him that callously, they walk him in and hand him over, but you see how easy it is to embellish for effect?

James is only 23 but he has already been an alcoholic – and more recently a crack head – for ten long years. He has fallen down a flight of stairs, lost his four front teeth and broken his nose; prompting swift action by his friends. Or the friends he still has.

I’ll let you dig in for yourselves, if you haven’t already, but James begins with the reticence you would expect. And boy, is this book orally fixated! There is a lot of vomit, a lot of blood and a particularly wincey dental scene, straight out of my own nightmares.

A sizable corner of the internet has criticised that it is so graphic but I don’t mind at all. Frey writes in an unstructured, hazy manner that suits this disgusting detail. It also make you feel like you are right there with him, rubbing his back and telling him it will all be okay, even though you might not believe it.

As with most books of this ilk, the real heart lies in the characterisation; in James and in the people he encounters along the way. Great humour is found in Leonard, James’ slightly sinister ‘father figure’, great tenderness in Miles, James’ gentle Federal Court Judge roommate and the lovely loving Lily with the troubled past. You want them all better, no matter what they have done and who they have hurt in their pasts.

I won’t tell you that James makes it or that there is a complete transformation at the end but I will say that you want him to. Or I did. I like James, I find him amusing and I agree with quite a lot he says, about religion in particular.

Luckily for me, Frey followed up Pieces with My Friend Leonard so I can keep some of my favourites going for a little longer. Perhaps not straight away though. I might need something fluffy next.

Book details:

  • Title: A Million Little Pieces
  • Publisher: John Murray; New Ed edition (10 May 2004)
  • ISBN-10: 0719561027
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719561023
  • Bought paperback (secondhand)