Monday, 18 March 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'Carrie' by Stephen King

I'm probably one of the few people in the world who has never seen the 1976 film version of 'Carrie'. But I'm not naive enough that I'm not aware of the story. Everyone knows that the menstrual euphemism "taking Carrie to the Prom" is a reference to a blood-soaked Sissy Spacek. And yeah, I had a pretty good idea of how the plot ends. 'Carrie' is such a huge piece of pop-culture that it's hard to avoid it. So basically, I came to this novel with some prior knowledge and yet I was still floored by the book.

I think that's probably Stephen King's major talent. His novels are never simple, they always have some substance to them. I think what really surprised me when reading 'Carrie' is how much of Stephen King's voice and story-telling technique is present in his first published novel. I was expecting it to stand out a bit, to be a little less polished, a little less, well Stephen King-ish. The narrative was suitably dis-jointed, jumping from one Point of View to another, interspersed with articles from magazines and extracts from scholarly books. The way that King presents Carrie White's story, it's easy to believe that this girl really did exist, that the terrible events at the Prom and afterwards really did happen. And that's what I love about Stephen King and this novel especially, you never have cause to question the reality of his supernatural elements. They simply are.

Carrie White dreams of going to the Prom. She just wants to be your average teenager. But with a religion-obsessed mother and no friends, she is lonely, vulnerable and the perfect target for the school bullies. Her classmates, her teachers, even her Mother, all beat Carrie down. And those that don't are blind to the events, to the hatred and the acts of violence going on around them.

But quiet, mousy Carrie can't be your average teenager because she's no average girl. She hides a terrible secret. She has the power of telekinesis. She can make things happen with the power of her mind. And the more the bullies try to weaken Carrie's reserves, the more her power builds inside her. Until, as the bullying reaches a horrifying climax so does her inner strength and she unleashes her telekinetic power on those who caused her pain.

This is a liberating novel. For anybody who has been bullied, Carrie's explosion on Prom night is kind of like the daydreams you'd hold close to your heart as the taunts rained down on you. Who hasn't wanted to destroy those who try to destroy them? And that's one of the most endearing things about this novel. We've all been in Carrie White's shoes. We've all experienced the horror of repression, of people trying to hold us back. Deep down we all just want to be accepted, to fit in, to be loved. We all have our own version of Prom Night, that thing we're yearning for and feel we'll never get to experience. Carrie gives substance to our own teenage experiences. She embodies our own morbid fears.

And that is probably what I love most about Stephen King - his ability to write characters that get under your skin and stay there. I wish I'd been exposed to this novel as a meek, vulnerable teenager who needed validation, who needed somebody to identify. I think I would have seen something of poor Carrie in myself. And it would have let me dream.

Rating - 4/5 

Friday, 15 March 2013

The King And I...


I have always been a bit of a horror fiend. As a child my favourite books were collections of ghost stories, vampire novels and R.L Stine's Goosebumps series (remember those?). When I hit my teenage years I started reading the Point Horror books and any other teen horror I could get my hands on. Eventually, aged 15 I read my first Stephen King novel - 'The Shining' and was hooked.

Since then, I've read several of his novels and loved them all. And this week I decided to set myself a fun little challenge - to read every Stephen King book in the order in which they were published. I know it's going to take a year or two but I don't care. I'm excited at the prospect of working through the world of Stephen King's books in order, seeing the connections between characters and places, the little things that he works into a lot of his novels like the number 19 and the character of Randall Flagg.

I've started my "King-a-thon" already with his first novel, 'Carrie'. I'm planning on blogging about my journey through King's back catalogue. I may start a separate blog for it, or I may just use this one, incorporating it into my 'What I've Been Reading series. What do you guys think? Would you be interested in reading my thoughts on King's novels?

Have any of you ever set yourself a similar kind of reading challenge? I'd love to hear about it.

Monday, 11 March 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'Abandon' by Meg Cabot

Unlike most people, I had never read a Meg Cabot novel before this one. But the pretty cover appealed to me and I simply couldn't resist the premise.

Two years ago, Pierce Oliviera died. Well, technically it was only for an hour and her body was actually in a kind of slowed-down state due to being submerged in ice cold water. But she was still dead until the doctors managed to restart her heart. Despite what her Neurologist and various Psychiatrist's have told her, Pierce knows that the things she experienced while she was gone from this world are real, that they did happen. You see, Pierce went to the Underworld, met a mysterious black-clad stranger and barely managed to escape before he made her his wife. Forever. Yeah, it does sound like a dream or an hallucination. But Pierce has proof. There is a necklace. A ridiculously expensive diamond necklace that changes colour when danger is near. Pierce didn't own this necklace before she died. But when she woke up it was in her possession.

Now, Pierce and her Mother have moved to Isla Huesos, attempting to make a new start away from the bizarre situations that seem to plague Pierce. But it seems Pierce simply cannot escape her destiny. Her mysterious stranger from the Underworld is here on the island and he's determined to take her back where she belongs.

I really enjoyed this novel, practically inhaled it, unable to put it down for hours at a time. At times, the first person point of view and the teenage language that came with it got to be a little irritating but once I reminded myself that I was in fact reading a Young Adult novel, I managed to overlook it. There was a lot of history and mythology weaved into the fiction of this novel and Cabot's description if the Underworld was perfect, really made me feel like it may just exist.

I think the only issue for me is that this is the first book in a trilogy. I would have liked the whole story in one larger book but I understand that the trilogy format appeals more to younger readers. For me though, I'm not sure how long the story will stick with me and whether I'll be desperate enough to go out and buy the second and third instalments. I'm not sure if I could stick with the characters and the lovey-dovey stuff that I'm sure will come in the second instalment for three books.

All in all it was a good read that slumped a little in places but ultimately kept me reading.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'A Conspiracy of Alchemists' by Liesel Schwarz

*I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads Giveaway by the author*

Liesel Schwarz has created a fantastic Steampunk world where Light and Shadow are fighting for supremacy and Magic and Science are bound together in the new advances in technology that are sweeping the world.

Elle Chance is just your everyday Dirigible pilot. She's a woman in a mans world but she has the strength of character to stand her own against those who try and put her down. She's a feminist in the making, preferring trousers over fancy dresses and enjoying a sneaky cigar with the boys far more than flirting with potential suitors. In this respect, I really liked Elle. She's the kind of strong female lead I like, the kind who doesn't sit back and wait for men to get her out of a scrape. And boy, did Elle find herself in plenty of those sticky situations.

The novel opens with Elle accepting a freelance job flying an object from France to England. The job seems a little dodgy but she accepts anyway, payment of an extravagant diamond bracelet too tempting to pass up. But little does she know, accepting that bracelet is just the beginning of her downfall.

On her way to the airfield with the box that she is to fly back to England, Elle is attacked by some seriously Shadowy men intent on getting their hands on her and the box. Although managing fairly well to stand her ground, the mysterious Hugh Marsh comes to her aid. They escape mostly unhurt but without possession of the box. And so begins a crazy dangerous journey into the world of Shadow, Alchemy and Magic.

The story bounces along fairly well with no discernible lulls and enough action and characterisation to keep the reader interested. The relationship that inevitably develops between Elle and mysterious Warlock, Marsh is pretty humorous at times and surprisingly doesn't get in the way of the plot despite romance and steampunk not traditionally being bed-mates.

The steampunk world that Schwarz has created is a strong one that I can't wait to revisit in the second instalment of the trilogy later this year. The concept of Magic is an interesting one that fits in nicely with the steampunk element and even the Vampires (which I'll admit didn't appeal to me at first) turned out to be kind of cool. Loisa in particular stood out for me. As did the fact that Schwarz sticks to the traditional vampire canon rules of avoiding daylight and drinking blood - always a plus for me.

I would definitely recommend this novel to fans of Urban fantasy, steampunk and paranormal romance as it has elements of all three - an unusual trait in fantasy novels but one that I found really interesting.

Rating: 4/5

Reading Round-Up:

9. 'Cora: The Unwilling Queen' by Amy Hutchinson: A brilliant re-imagining of the myth of Persephone and Hades set in present day America. A young-adult novel that kept this fully-grown adult on the edge of her seat.

10. 'Dawn of the Dreadfuls' by Steve Hockensmith: A quaint yet gory prequel to 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' that shows us the transformation of the Bennet sisters from young debutantes in waiting to zombie slayers extraordinaire.

11. 'Warm Bodies' by Isaac Marion: A kind of Romeo and Juliet with Zombies. Perfect for those who like a love story with added bite. 

12. 'The Birthing House' by Christopher Ransom: A disappointing horror novel that failed to perform. Dull characters, a plot full of holes and an untruthful blurb that compares it to 'The Shining'Avoid like the plague if you want a book that will actually scare you.

13. 'A Discovery of Witches' by Deborah Harkness: A brilliant take on the vampire genre that seems to have taken over. Intelligent characters, a deeply researched plot and a romantic relationship that doesn't take over the whole novel.

So, I didn't get as much reading done in February as I did in January but hey, it was a short month and I did read one 600-odd page novel so I still think I did pretty well. Plus, I'm well on-track to complete my goal of 40 books in 2013. According to good-reads, I'm 7 books ahead of schedule, which is awesome if you ask me.

I think my favourite book of February was 'A Discovery of Witches' although 'Warm Bodies' and 'Cora' are very close seconds. My least favourite was definitely 'The Birthing House'. I had great expectations for this novel and it just disappointed me in so many ways.

Again, I have a whole load of books lined up for March but I'm always open to suggestions and recommendations. What have you read so far this year? 

Sunday, 3 March 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'A Discovery of Witches' by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery Of Witches (All Souls, #1) 

I was given this book as a Christmas present in 2011 and despite really wanting to read it, I kept putting it off because with everything that was going on last year I simply wasn't able to focus on 'big' books. But now that I'm storming through books again, I decided to give it a go. And I'm so, so glad I did.

Several reviews of this book compare it to the Twilight series but I found it more reminiscent of Anne Rice's 'Vampire Chronicles' with a touch of 'The Historian' thrown in for good measure. The novel focuses on Diana Bishop, a witch who refuses to use her magic, convinced that said magic was the reason her parents were killed when she was just seven years old. She is a Historian of Alchemy and Science (amazing, I know!) and while researching a paper in Oxford's Bodleian library, inadvertently discovers a centuries hidden Alchemical manuscript that happens to be imbued with magic. This (not so) happy accident throws Diana into a collision course with Oxfords renowned Neuro and Chemical Scientist, Matthew Clairmont, who also happens to be a Vampire.

Soon, Diana and Matthew find themselves tangled up in a centuries long battle for Diana's lost manuscript, fighting off Vampires, Demons and Witches and bringing natural enemies together in a fight for their lives.

This novel was full of action, romance, science and history and kept me reading for hours at a time. A couple of times I nearly missed my bus stop because I was so lost in the world of the book and at least once I went back to work late from a tea break because I simply had to finish the chapter I was reading. Yeah, it really was that good.

One of the main plus points of this novel for me was a bit of a geeky one. The science held up. Working in a lab means that when I read anything that involves science I tend to spot mistakes or inaccuracies. I can say that I didn't spot any errors in Matthew's lab or his work. And that really helped maintain the suspension of belief for me. Likewise with the historical aspect. At no point did I stop and wonder whether the things I was reading were accurate, which is a major deal for me. I like novels to be thoroughly researched and fact-checked. 

This is one of my favourite novels so far this year and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes their Vampire novels with a bite.

Rating: 5/5