Sunday, 24 February 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'The Birthing House' by Christopher Ransom

So, I finished reading this book nearly a week ago and yet I just haven't gotten round to writing a review yet. Mainly because I've been plagued with migraines that have made me just want to curl up in bed and never get out again but partly because it just wasn't as good as I hoped it would be.

When I spied this novel in a local charity shop for £2, it looked exactly like my kind of book and at such a bargain rate, I snapped it up. The premise was great - a couple move into their dream house, hoping for a fresh start and things seem to be going well until the husband discovers a Victorian photograph bearing the exact likeness of his very un-Victorian wife. And then a whole load of ghostly goings on begin to plague them in their new home. Sounds great, right? Well not so much actually.

I think one of the main problems was that I simply did not connect enough with either the main character, un-employed screenwriter Conrad, or his mostly-absent-from-the-plot wife Jo. Ransom didn't give us enough back-story to this tormented couple and the disintegration of their marriage. I connected more with some of the peripheral characters such as Nadia, the next door neighbours pregnant daughter, which is a bit weird and made the reading process un-enjoyable because I spent a lot of time wanting to read more about her and her past, rather than the main characters.

There were aspects of the plot that weren't explained properly - the fact that the woman in the photo looks like Conrad's wife is shoddily rationalised. As is the origin of the snake eggs. Those eggs could have been a much better plot point but they seemed to be abandoned hastily towards the end of the novel. The 'Doctor', a creepy entity mentioned right at the beginning of the novel doesn't reappear until the very end of the novel, his existence never really fully explained. 

The back of this book exclaimed "The scariest book since 'The Shining'". In what reality this statement is true I cannot imagine. This book wasn't really all that horrifying. There was one scene that got me feeling a little chilled - a creepy popsicle stick doll animatedly moving around the room. I really hoped there would be more chill-inducing prose but I was disappointed. Every now and then Ransom would mention a click-clicking noise on the stairs or in the hallway or wherever, obviously intended to make the naive reader assume that creepy little doll was coming back. But after the first time it turned out to be the clicking of the dog's nails on the wooden floor, I got the idea. I don't think any reader is stupid enough to fall for that lame technique twice. Or god knows however many times he used it.

This book was also way too full of pointless swearing and gratuitous sex for my liking. Don't get me wrong, I'm not averse to the odd sex scene in a novel but when it's there for the sake of it and not for plot development, I get a bit sick of it.

As I said, this novel was full of promise. A creepy old house where ghostly babies cry in the night and horrendous little dolls move of their own accord is definitely my ideal read. But this was just so poorly put together that I would never recommend it to anyone. Such a disappointing read.

Rating: 1/5 

Saturday, 16 February 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'Warm Bodies' by Isaac Marion

I've been wanting to read this novel for a while now but the whole idea of pairing zombies and romance kind of put me off. I'm a huge fan of any novel or film that has an apocalyptic back-drop, which is what won me over and made me decide to finally read 'Warm Bodies'. And I'm so glad I did.

'R' is a zombie. He's dead, ceased to breathe. His skin is grey, his eyes are grey and he's caked in the blood of his victims. But there's something different about him. He has a personality. He can string a sentence together, more than the typical utterance of "Brrrains!" that his fellow undead can manage. He can remember the first letter of his name. And he wants to remember more. He wants to connect with the living world that still struggles to go on around him. He wants to live.

This is quite possibly the best Zombie novel I've read. 'R' is a brilliant character - a zombie with a lust for life, with a heart that no longer beats and yet can still feel love. The novel is told in a sort of internal monologue from R's perspective. His insights into life and death and the reasons for our crazy human behaviours are so eloquent, so painfully beautiful that I wish I'd read this with a pen in hand to underline my favourite passages.

There is so much I want to say about this novel and I just don't have the words to accomplish it. I feel a little like R trying to piece together the words to explain the complex new emotions he is feeling. This book kind of broke the mold, it takes the rules of the Zombie cannon and smashes them all to pieces. Surely a zombie and a living breathing human being can't fall in love? Sure they can. Surely as a reader, we're not supposed to connect with a brain-eating zombie? Well, I certainly did.

This book blew my tiny mind. I urge everyone who likes zombies, romance or just a damn good story to go out and read this novel.

Rating: 5/5  

Saturday, 9 February 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'Dawn of the Dreadfuls' by Steve Hockensmith

I read the Quirk Classics novel 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' early last year and absolutely loved it. I've been wanting to get my hands on the prequel 'Dawn of the Dreadfuls' since then, in the hopes that it would live up to the standards already set. It seriously did not disappoint.

For those of you who haven't read 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies', just imagine Jane Austen's story set against the backdrop of a Britain ravaged by the walking dead. See in your mind an Elizabeth Bennett who is happier wielding a Katana than a sewing needle and you might just be there. It's a wonderful romp through a world of zombie-slaying English gentlemen and a band of sisters who can give any man a run for his money, including the infamous Mr Darcy.

'Dawn of the Dreadfuls' takes us back four years to a time of tranquillity at Longbourne. 'The Troubles' have been over for years, the deceased have been buried with their heads still attached to their shoulders. And Mr Bennett, zombie-slayer has allowed his wife to turn his dojo into a greenhouse. But things are about to change. When a funeral goes dramatically wrong and the corpse fights his way out of his coffin, it becomes apparent that 'The Troubles' are far from over. Zombies are once again roaming the English countryside. And it is down to Mr Bennett to teach his daughters the wisdom of zombie-slaying.

We watch Elizabeth Bennett grow from naive young woman to warrior extraordinaire, dealing with the rotting forms of people she once knew and cared for and fighting off the affections of two potential suitors, the Chinese-trained warrior teacher Master Hawksworth and the zombie-obsessed Dr Keckilpenny. Who will win Elizabeth's heart? And can the undead hordes be held back long enough for us to find out?

'Dawn of the Dreadfuls' is an imaginative and compelling look at the years preceding 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' and I would definitely recommend it to those who like their zombie gore with a side dish of humour.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'Cora: The Unwilling Queen' by Amy Hutchinson

*I won a free copy of this book on*
I've always loved the myth of Persephone and Hades. There's just something about having to spend half your life in the confines of the Underworld that seriously creeps me out.

In her debut novel 'Cora: The Unwilling Queen', Amy Hutchinson takes Persephone's story and re-imagines it, casting in Persephone's place everyday teenager Cora.

Cora has been having these dreams. Really strange dreams that she struggles to remember when she awakes. Dreams that enable her to take possessions in and out of her dream world. And that's seriously not normal, right? As the dreams get stranger and stranger, causing her to collapse into a deep sleep each night at midnight and dream about a handsome stranger who wants her to be his bride, Cora turns to her best friends, in the hope that they can help her solve the mystery of the dreams before it's too late.

This book sucked me in and had me hooked until the very last line. The story was utterly compelling and the story flicked back and forth between Cora's waking life and dream world seamlessly. The dream sequences didn't have any of the awkwardness that they seem to possess in other novels. It really felt natural to slip into Cora's dreams with her and sneak out upon her waking. 

As a heroine, Cora was perfect. She didn't have any of that annoying woe-is-me stuff going on that I loath in teenage protagonists. Instead, she was a strong, crafty survivor who made the most of her situation and didn't rely on others to rescue her. 

I'm anxiously awaiting the sequel and can't wait to see where Cora's adventure leads. I'd recommend this novel to anyone who likes strong female characters and a plot that gives a contemporary take on myth.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Reading Round-Up:

1. 'On the Road' by Jack Kerouac: a slightly disappointing read that got a bit tedious once I passed the halfway point.

2. 'Coraline and Other Stories' by Neil Gaiman: a cute collection of stories including the novella 'Coraline' which I absolutely adored.

3.'Blockade Billy' by Stephen King: the titular novella plus a short story thrown in for good measure. A quick read that kept me entertained.

4. 'Different Seasons' by Stephen King: (Yeah I was on a little Stephen King kick. It happens sometimes.) This collection of four novella's was slightly different to previous King novels. They weren't in his traditional horror vein but they were still chilling in their own way, especially 'Apt Pupil'.

5. 'The Marriage Plot' by Jeffrey Eugenides: a brilliant third novel from Eugenides after a lengthy hiatus. Had me reading obsessively until the very end.

6. 'Beautiful Creatures' by Kimi Garcia and Margaret Stohl: One of the best YA Urban fantasy's I've ever read. 

7. 'Mr Suit' by Nigel Bird: a lacklustre crime novella that wasn't as good as its blurb claimed it to be.

8. 'The Aylesford Skull' by James P. Blaylock: (technically I finished this on 1st February but as the majority of it was read in January I'm including it in this list) A fantastic romp through Steampunk London that has seriously won me over to the Steampunk genre.

So, I managed to read eight books in January. That's six more than in January 2012. I'm impressed with myself and according to goodreads, I'm ahead of schedule by five books. I think I have most of February's books lined up but no doubt that will change. I'm sort of a fickle reader. I decide what to read based on how the last book made me feel. Sometimes I desire something similar, other times a complete diversion from what I've just finished reading.

My favourite book of the month was definitely 'The Aylesford Skull'. My least favourite was 'On the Road'.

What did you read in January? 

Saturday, 2 February 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'The Aylesford Skull' by James P Blaylock

I received a free copy of 'The Aylesford Skull' from the publisher through a giveaway on


Although this is actually the seventh novel in the 'Langdon St Ives' series, it is the first of James P Blaylock's novels that I've come across. It is also the first full length Steampunk novel I've read.

Under usual circumstances, I would never consider reading a novel that far into a series when I haven't read all of the previous instalments. However, I was just so intrigued by the premise of this book that I couldn't resist. The blurb proclaimed 
It is the summer of 1883 and Professor Langdon St. Ives - brilliant but eccentric scientist and explorer - is at home in Aylesford with his family. However, a few miles to the north a steam launch has been taken by pirates above Egypt Bay; the crew murdered and pitched overboard. In Aylesford itself a grave is opened and possibly robbed of the skull. The suspected grave robber, the infamous Dr. Ignacio Narbondo, is an old nemesis of Langdon St. Ives.

When Dr. Narbondo returns to kidnap his four-year-old son Eddie and then vanishes into the night, St. Ives and his factotum Hasbro race to London in pursuit...
Who could resist that kind of plot? Not me. So I got stuck in, determined not to let the fact that I had no prior knowledge of the characters taint my reading. And I'm glad I did. I can honestly say that you don't need to know anything at all about St Ives or his nemesis Narbondo before you open the book. Everything you need to know you can pick up in the pages of 'The Aylesford Skull'. Important plot points from previous novels are referenced well, without going into overly-done flashback mode and I really didn't feel as though I'd missed out on too much background information.

The action began immediately and it sucked me straight into the world of Langdon St Ives, the hero of the novel. St Ives is an interesting hero. He's a typical Victorian gentleman with a not so typical talent for solving mysteries and averting crimes. He's attempting to live a comfortable and relaxing life in Aylesford with his wife and two young children. But as you might expect, things don't go according to plan when St Ives old nemesis Dr Ignacio Narbondo arrives on the scene.

I hate to admit it, but Narbondo, the perfect villain might just be my favourite character in the novel. He is so perfectly evil and dedicated to his dark ways that he fascinated me. Blaylock certainly knows how to write a villain and the hunchbacked doctor keeps coming into my mind even days after closing the book. For me, that's always a sign of good storytelling.

The novel itself was beautifully written, stylistically flawless and full of intricate details that really make the reading experience special. The novel moved at a steady pace, the plot moving forward without any slumps. And then when the climax began to come into sight, I began to turn the pages faster, the chapters coming and going before my eyes at a much faster pace. The momentum increased to match the level of action and I flew through probably the last third of the book in a day. An ending like that, one that fires up and keeps you guessing with its plot twists and suspense-inspiring characterisation is such a rare treat that I was sad to turn the final page.

The rest of Blaylock's Langdon St Ives novels are now on my Wish List. I need another dose of Blaylock's Steampunk London. A definite recommendation to anybody who loves Sci-fi or historical fiction.

Rating: 5/5