Payday splurge! Bookish treats to get me though April

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.” ― Oscar Wilde

It’s the end of the month, which means it’s finally time to treat myself after a few penniless weeks. Check out my haul!

The Hourglass Factory – Lucy Ribchester

the-hourglass-factory-9781471139307_hr1912 and London is in turmoil…

The suffragette movement is reaching fever pitch but for broke Fleet Street tomboy Frankie George, just getting by in the cut-throat world of newspapers is hard enough. Sent to interview trapeze artist Ebony Diamond, Frankie finds herself fascinated by the tightly laced acrobat and follows her across London to a Mayfair corset shop that hides more than one dark secret.

Then Ebony Diamond mysteriously disappears in the middle of a performance, and Frankie is drawn into a world of tricks, society columnists, corset fetishists, suffragettes and circus freaks. How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory?

From the newsrooms of Fleet Street to the drawing rooms of high society, the missing Ebony Diamond leads Frankie to the trail of a murderous villain with a plot more deadly than anyone could have imagined…

The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak

The-Book-Thief-cover1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.

Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.

It’s a small story, about:
a girl
an accordionist
some fanatical Germans
a Jewish fist fighter
and quite a lot of thievery.

The House at the End of Hope Street – Menna Van Praag

9780143124948_p0_v1_s260x420When Alba Ashby, the youngest Ph.D. student at Cambridge University, suffers the Worst Event of Her Life, she finds herself at the door of 11 Hope Street. There, a beautiful older woman named Peggy invites Alba to stay on the house’s unusual conditions: she’ll have ninety-nine nights, and no more, to turn her life around.

Once inside, Alba discovers that 11 Hope Street is no ordinary house. Past residents include Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Parker, and Agatha Christie, who all stayed there at hopeless times in their lives and who still hang around – quite literally – in talking portraits on the walls. With their help Alba begins to piece her life back together and embarks on a journey that may save her life.

Ladder of Years – Anne Tyler

{D611CA94-A3E1-4F0E-AA1C-260F3312C980}Img400Forty-year-old Delia Grinstead is last seen strolling down the Delaware shore, wearing nothing more than a bathing suit and carrying a beach tote with five hundred dollars tucked inside.

To her husband and three almost-grown children, she has vanished without trace or reason. But for Delia, who feels like a tiny gnat buzzing around her family’s edges, “walking away from it all” is not a premeditated act, but an impulse that will lead her into a new, exciting, and unimagined life…

Did you treat yourself to any literary goodies this payday?

Top Ten Tuesday! Literary quotes

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding this week to be a bit of a drag ― and it’s only Tuesday! I am well and truly tired of the bleak weather now. Seriously, where is spring? To cheer myself up, and hopefully bring a little light to your lives too, here are few of my favourite literary quotes for #toptentuesday. Enjoy!

“A tramp tramps, not because he likes it, but for the same reason as a car keeps to the left; because there happens to be a law compelling him to do so.” ― George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

“And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery…and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything.” ― Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

“Each day had a tranquility a timelessness about it so that you wished it would never end. But then the dark skin of the night would peel off and there would be a fresh day waiting for us glossy and colorful as a child’s transfer and with the same tinge of unreality.” ― Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” ― Anne Frank, The Diary Of A Young Girl

“I think that the most necessary quality for any person to have is imagination. It makes people able to put themselves in other people’s places. It makes them kind and sympathetic and understanding.” ― Jean Webster, Daddy-Long-Legs

“Innocence is a kind of insanity.” ― Graham Greene, The Quiet American

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“Man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, and emerges ahead of his accomplishments.” ― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

“People aim for the stars, and they end up like goldfish in a bowl. I wonder if it wouldn’t be simpler just to teach children right from the start that life is absurd.” ― Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” ― Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

Some of my favourite fictional ladies, created by ladies

“Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men.” ― Joseph Conrad

Over the weekend #womeninfiction emerged on Twitter, so in running with the theme I’m here to share with you a few of my favourite fictional ladies.

Renée Michel

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery.

Elegance of the HedgehogRenée Michel is possibly my favourite literary lady of all time. She is a concierge, and self-confessed member of the lower class. Despite how she outwardly appears, she is in fact fantastically intelligent, but she knows her place, and sticks to it, stating that to be “poor, ugly and, moreover, intelligent condemns one, in our society, to a dark and disillusioned life, a condition one ought to accept at an early age”. Madame Michel prefers to lives a secret life, reading Russian literature in the privacy of her lodge while donning the air of a simpleton when speaking with the inhabitants of the apartment complex where she works.

In Renée, Barbery has created a fantastic female heroine for lovers of literature. I challenge anyone to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog and not feel themselves brimming over with admiration for the soft soul nestled within the prickly exterior of Madame Michel.

Petronella Brandt née Oortman

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

18498569Petronella is an 18-year-old Dutch girl whose family have fallen on hard times since the death of her father. She is married off to a wealthy merchant from Amsterdam, Johannes Brandt, but has a difficult time fitting into her new life. Petronella, who prefers to go by the name of Nella, attempts to be a good wife to her new husband, but is forever at the mercy of her stern sister-in-law Marin Brandt. Nella begins as a child, before all too quickly becoming a woman, when the crushing weight of her new family’s secrets is placed on her shoulders.

What is there to not love about Nella? In each stage of her growth she is simply delightful: innocent and charming, determined and strong, and finally, reliable and level-headed.

Jerusha Abbot

Daddy long legs – Jean Webster

9780141331119Jerusha Abbott, or Judy as she likes to be called, was brought up at the John Grier Home, an old-fashioned orphanage. At the age of 17, she find herself at a loose end, she has finished her education, and is no longer young enough to live in the orphanage without paying her way. Imagine her surprise when one of the John Grier Home’s trustees offers to pay for her to go to university. He will pay her tuition and also give her a generous monthly allowance; in exchange Judy must write him a monthly letter. Judy is told she will never know his true identity and must address the letters to Mr. John Smith, and he will never reply. Judy warms quickly to the trustee, gifting him the persona ‘Daddy Long Legs’, and writing warm, detailed letters each month. Judy dotes on her Daddy Long Legs, and, it appears, he on her.

Judy is an amazing character, gifted with the unique opportunity to turn her rags to riches. Read Daddy Long Legs and I’m sure you will find, too, that you fall in love with the little orphan girl and her extraordinary tale.

Geogianna Lennox

Dead and Buryd – Chele Cooke

dfw-cc-dab-cover-mid (2)Georgianna Lennox is a local medic on a foreign planet ruled by alien invaders, the Adveni. The native people, the Veniche, to whom Georgianna belongs, have become slaves in their own home. Georgianna is somewhat unique among the Veniche as her work allows her to tread within the realms of the Adveni forces, treating the sick and injured within the walls of the infamous Lyndbury prison. For Georgianna this is a way of treating her lost people, but it is not enough. When Georgianna’s friendship with a group of rebels risks putting her own freedom at stake, she is faced with a difficult decision – what will she choose to put first, her family or the freedom of her people?

Georgianna is a strong, determined character, but one I felt extremely comfortable getting to know. Cooke has created a character that is admirable, but also wonderfully human. I found her to be amazingly likeable and funny, despite her hard exterior.

Edwina

Now the Day is Over – Marion Husband

9781908381811-frontcover (2)Are you sick of me talking about Edwina yet? If you are, shame on you, you clearly haven’t taken the time to read the book.

Edwina is the spirit of a young woman trapped between the  early 20th Century, and modern day Britain. Since her death she has lurked the shadows of her former home, critically analysing those who take residence within the walls. In Now the Day is Over she takes the form of super-omniscient narrator, haunting the house which was once hers, commenting on the lives of the adulterous couple who reside within her domain, comparing their existence to the life that was once hers.

I love Edwina because she is so all encompassing. She is deliciously genuine, admirable, maddening, terrifying and somewhat detestable all rolled into one.

Intrigued by any of my lady loves? You know what to do.

Children’s book review tour! Color Therapy: An Anti-Stress Coloring Book

“My world was the size of a crayon box, and it took every colour to draw her” ― Sarah Kay

If yesterday’s review wasn’t out of the ordinary enough for you I hope today will not disappoint.

I recently bought an adult colouring books for one of my friends. She had been under a lot of stress, and I thought it would give her an excuse to do something relaxing and creative to unwind at the end of the day.

Adult colouring books have only really been a ‘thing’ for the last year or so, but if sales are anything to go by they certainly seem to be proving popular. There is no shortage of them on the marketplace, just type the words into Amazon and you will be well and truly spoilt for choice.

I was a little envious of the book I had bought my friend, so I set out to secure one for myself – for review purposes of course.

I was lucky enough to be sent this one for free by Michael O’Mara Books Ltd.

Color Therapy: An Anti-Stress Coloring Book – Cindy Wilde, Laura-Kate Chapman and Richard Merritt

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My first feeling upon opening the package was one of great satisfaction – the book itself is lovely. There is none of the horrid flimsiness you often get with traditional children’s colouring books, not a single sheet of sugar paper in sight. It’s nice and weighty, with a hard cover and thick, good quality pages.

I spent a few minutes leafing through the pages and was impressed by the effort and attention to detail which so clearly went into the making of the book. A children’s colouring book would normally include a selection of crudely drawn outlines of trees, houses, tractors and smiling faces –  perfect for a child to scribble outside of the lines. Color Therapy, however, shows the sophistication that divides grown-up colouring books from their traditional counterparts. The pages are stunning, an eye watering mix of outlines, patterns, blank pages and illustrations on which to colour, doodle and sketch to your heart’s content.

Here’s a little taster of some of the pages I am most looking forward to:

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Even the layout of the book pretty sophisticated – despite the introduction stating that there are no rules ‘pick up a pen or pencil and get creating…’ – it is split into seven sections, each of which focus on a different palette, fiery reds, happy yellows, majestic greens and icy blues.

IMG_20150322_101539172I’ve spent the last few weeks taking half an hour or at the end of the day to use Color Therapy, and I have to say I have really enjoyed it. Although I should confess that so far I have only focused on the first section, Red, as it seems the perfectionist in me is unwilling to complete the book in anything other than chronological order.

Colouring in is incredibly soothing, I suppose it is a bit like curling up into the foetal position, there is something comforting about retreating back to more innocent times. I’ve been suffering from headaches a lot recently, and I’ve noticed that using Color Therapy in the evenings has helped to ease the pressure a bit, and as a result I have been sleeping better.

I’ve also found that while colouring in my mind begins to wander, it gives me time to think, but not about the stresses of everyday life. Rather, I find myself thinking about my writing. Since I’ve started using this book I have found it easier to sit down and start on the writing projects I have planned.

The following are a few of my creations – I particularly enjoyed colouring the flamenco dancer!

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Adult colouring books will not be for everyone. I’ve read somewhere that the trend is, somewhat unsurprisingly, far more popular among women. That said, I would definitely recommend Color Therapy. I have thoroughly enjoyed my adult colouring book so far, and I am planning to continue using it. If colouring appeals to your arty, creative side, or if you just want an easy going hobby to unwind with, I think you could benefit having a book like this in your desk drawer.

Children’s book review tour! Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad – Henry Cole

“Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves” ― Abraham Lincoln

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad – Henry Cole

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Another children’s classic, the picture book. It is unusual for me to try and review a book with no words at all, but a challenge I accepted and enjoyed to the last.

What would you do
if you had the chance
to help a person
find freedom.

This is the question presented to a young girl, in Henry Cole’s haunting tale of a young slave’s journey to freedom.

Unspoken is a beautiful example of a children’s picture book with illustrations that are filled with emotion and can, on their own, tell a strong and provocative tale. Cole has taken something which is often associated with children’s literature, a picture book, a wordless story, and created something beautiful. That is not to say that picture books can’t appeal to adults. Children’s classic such as The Snowman, and Father Christmas are stunning and offer equal entertainment for adults as they do for children.  Indeed, the tale told in Unspoken can speak more toward an adult audience as the innocent child is unlikely to grasp the full extent of sadness that underlies the beautiful artwork. To the child the book may appear as nothing more than a story of young girl with a secret friend.

unspoken-9780545399975-pages-16-17-1-final-rightWithout words, the young girl who lives within the illustrations of Cole’s work is almost a stranger to us; we do not know her name, or very much about her life. However, from her actions it seems as though she is from a less than well off family. Cole draws her working on a farm in tattered clothes, leading cattle and feeding chickens. It is while carrying out chores that the child sees men on horseback riding through her family’s farm, they are searching for something, and she is soon to discover the whereabouts of their quarry. Sent to the barn to gather supplies she is startle by a sound coming from a pile of corn – there is someone there.

If we knew little about the young girl, even more mysterious is the identity of the runaway. We see only their eye peeking through the ears of corn, and later, their thankful hands, reaching out to receive food encased within the young girl’s handkerchief. In my mind I have given the runaway a female identity, although each reader will have their own feelings on this matter.

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The worry etched on the young girls face as she hides this secret says far more than any words could express. Her concern seeps from the pages, a combined anxiety for the creature in the corn, and that she will be discovered harbouring a fugitive.  She watches with clear disdain as men on horseback visit her father once again, offering a reward for the return of an escaped slave. You can see that the family live a simple life, likely a reward would be very gratefully received, and yet the young girl looks on, in silence.

Our heroine, beautiful in her innocence, seems only to think of the safety of the figure in the corn. She follows her heart, as the runaway follows the North Star, away from the South, to freedom. When she returns to the barn and finds the runaway gone, leaving behind a small token of thanks, she knows she has made the right choice.

Page 2 Unspoken

Without a single word Cole’s book speaks mountains. There is no colour, no creed, no judgement, just a person, helping another person.

In his author’s note Cole writes that he hopes that those who read the book will use his pictures as a starting point to create their own story – filling in all that has been left unspoken.

Children’s book review tour! Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier – Barroux

“In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”  ― Wilfred Owen

Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier – Barroux

51QTsd1WFBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_There was never any question of including this book on my tour list. Before I had even received the book I knew that I loved it. Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier is exactly what the title implies; the diary of an unknown soldier.

One winter’s morning, Barroux was walking down the streets of Paris when he passed a house which was being emptied of rubbish; piles of old belongings, wrappers and refuse had been placed in the street. ‘We are emptying the basement. Help yourself if you like’ he was told by one of the people ferrying rubbish onto the street. It was at this point that Barroux picked up an ageing yellow diary from amongst the rubbish. A diary which belonged to an unknown soldier serving during world war one. Barroux took the diary and from it created Line of Fire, a graphic novel depicting the words written by an unknown French soldier…may his words never be forgotten.

This book was such a find! I’m over the moon to have discovered it, read it, and to have a copy of my own.

The illustration style fits so perfectly with the subject; you can almost imagine the soldier himself drawing them. They are simple, almost childish, yet graphic, as though they have been scratched with a piece of charcoal salvaged from the embers of long extinguished fire. They remind me, in some ways, of images I have seen drawn by soldiers on the front line. Although the sketches undoubtedly carry Barroux’s distinctive style, there is much in the way of reality present in the scenes. I am reminded of the images in A Soldiers Sketches Under Fire by Harold Harvey – real images sketched by a soldier on the front line.

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It feels strange to review the words of a man when I know nothing about him. Although Barroux is listed as the author of the book, the words belong to the Unknown Soldier. They are exactly as they were found, although in the case of my copy they have been translated into English from their native French. They are powerful words, and although it does not take long to read the book, the effect of the story is far reaching and potent.

The Unknown Soldier speaks of the things which are sure to have plagued any man on the front line of WWI. His fatigue, it is crippling, and he feels dead on his feet – ‘My feet are bleeding, My legs can no longer hold me up. This isn’t a man who’s walking but a sheep following the flock.’ He is never able to rest for more than a few hours before being aroused, often in the dead of night, to move on to the next place. He takes to sleeping on piles of straw, where they are available, next to his companion Fernand, sleeping close together for warmth, and, I expect, comfort.

Our Soldier worries about those he has left behind. He is so worried, plagued by worry each time he receives no word from home. It is moving to see the worry from the other side. It is well known that those that are left behind will worry about their father, brother, son, or husband who has gone away to fight, but the soldiers words show that the worry tortures him equally. ‘The women weep. It’s up to us to show that we’re stronger than they are and convince them that we will return.’ When he does hear news his release is evident, as though he has let out a deep breath of relief; ‘at last I receive some postcards from my dear wife’.

The horror of war is also painted on the pages of the diary, not so much in Barroux’s drawings, but in the soldier’s words. The words are not complicated or flowing, but to the point, and powerful – you can smell the gunpowder, hear the crackle of artillery fire, and see the horrors that the Unknown Soldier scrawls within the pages of his diary. ‘This is where a powerful shell landed on a platoon of the 6th company, which was partially destroyed’ he writes, having seen the remains of a soldiers leg hanging from a tree branch.

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The Unknown Soldier seems to have made a narrow escape from the horrors of war, although no one knows now anything about the man who kept this diary.  He writes of being injured while forced to advance under the eruption of overhead shrapnel, and of the bravery of a fellow soldier, without whom he may not have survived. ‘While he’s bandaging my arm, the shells continue to rain down on us. I shall never forget the devotion of this soldier who didn’t think twice about risking his life, staying close in order to tend to me.’

Once out of the line of fire, he is faced with a lengthy journey to a hospital, all the while in indescribable pain, and with a raging fever which forbids him rest and sustenance. It is once he arrives at hospital, and his fever begins to subside that he is faced with another, unimagined issue – boredom. For a week we hear nothing of the Unknown Soldier, and then, he writes of his boredom, the slowness of the days, his heavy heart, and his feeling that life is carrying on all the same outside of the hospital walls.

‘Sometimes I’m sorry I didn’t stay in the line of fire’ – and with these words the Unknown Soldier’s story ends.

Line of Fire has left me feeling such a strange mix of emotions, with so many questions running through my mind. The power of the Unknown Soldier’s last words are incredible, and only made more so by the fact that he, undoubtedly, never expected anyone to read his diary. Who was this man? And why did he stop writing? Questions I will find myself often asking, and will never know the answer to.

I would recommend this book to almost anyone. Even if you don’t feel drawn to Barroux’s illustrations the power of the Unknown Soldier’s words will not fail to captivate. History students, WWI fanatics, children and adults alike, this is a lesson in history, and an important one at that. Read it and pass on the recommendation.

Children’s book review tour! Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales – Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

I could hardly do a book tour on children’s book for adults without delving into a little bit of young adult fiction now could I? If you enjoyed them as a pre-teen, you will probably quite enjoy going back over them now. Who can honestly say they wouldn’t happily sit down with a copy of Goosebumps, if just for the novelty?

Don’t lie to me.

So the next book on my tour was selected with this in mind.

Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales – Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

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‘Let’s be honest. We have questions about monsters. That’s why we put this book together. That’s why you’re reading this book right now. On old maps, cartographers would draw strange beasts around the margins and write phrases such as “Here be dragons.” That’s where monsters exist: in the unmapped spaces, in the places where we haven’t filled in all the gaps, in outer space or in the deepest parts of the ocean.’

In their Anthology of Beastly Tales Link and Grant answer some questions about monsters, or rather, tell us a few tales about the monsters hiding in plain sight.

But before we begin reading, there’s a pop quiz to complete – this is novel. So as advised, I turn down the lights, pick up a nice sharp pencil, ‘one that can double as a weapon in an emergency’, and tell the truth.

The questions start off casually; multiple choice questions about the way monsters look, would I consider dating a spider, would I let a vampire bite me, you get the gist. But then they get just a little too creepy for a girl alone in a big house on a dark night.

When you were younger, you were afraid that something was in your closet.
Yes/No

There’s nothing in the closet. Really.
True/False

Are you sure there’s nothing in the closet.
Yes/No

Maybe you should go look in the closet, just in case.
Yes/No/I don’t want to. You do it.

Check again. Just one more time. Go ahead. We’ll wait right here.

After completing my pop quiz, silently cursing Link and Grant, and with my wardrobe door firmly shut. I began the first story ‘Moriabe’s Children’.

“Alanie had never seen a kraken, but her people spoke of them often. The kraken were out beyond the breakwaters of Serenity Bay, the hungry children of Moriabe. They writhed in the depths and sometimes rose to the surface to hunt. A kraken’s tentacles could encircle a sailing ship and crack its spine. Kraken snapped masts like kindling, and swallowed sailors whole.”

This first tale creeped me out. I’m terrified of squids, and the descriptions of the mammoth children of Moriabe writhing like ink pools under the sea surface made me inwardly shudder. So far so good!Denys_de_Montfort_Poulpe_ColossalThere are fifteen stories in all. Fifteen tales that dip briefly into the lives of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, demons and shape shifters. Some of these creatures hide in the shadows of our own existence, and some inhabit their own weird and wonderful worlds, where flowers are the cancer that infects a person’s soul and artificial boyfriends made from soft plastic walk among the living.

The book has a great combination of stories from different authors from all over the world, and shows an immense amount of imagination and flair. Some of the stories will appeal more to some than to others, as with any anthology, but I think there will be something here for everyone. I was particularly pleased to come across a hidden comic strip towards the end of the book, which was wholly unexpected, and served as a nice break from the rest of the text.

Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)Reading Monstrous Affections was like revisiting my preteen years. Some of the stories don’t try and frighten in the slightest, and instead slip into the weird and wonderful, while others are straight out spine-chilling. I am thinking in particular of ‘Left Foot, Right’ – the story of a young girl who, guilt ridden at her sister’s death, attempts to appease her sisters spirit with the gift of new shoes – which was undoubtedly the most horrifying of the stories from my perspective, and I love ghost stories.

The book is also, physically beautiful, it is a nice weighty volume, with a stunning, if slightly horrifying cover image. The book is hardbacked and made from thick, good quality paper, and to hold in your hands feels almost like a spell book, or book of dark magic, apart from having that wholly divine new book smell, rather than an equally pleasant old book scent.

But the thing I found most impressive about this book, was not the stories themselves, but the fact that many of the stories explore a lot of issues which pre-teen and young adult audiences will be able to relate to. Many of the stories explore sexuality and underage pregnancy, as well as looking at love and friendship, the loss of loved ones and bullying. I think exploring issues such as these is really important in YA fiction, and Monstrous Affections has approached this really well.

Monstrous Affections was a really fun, and at times slightly thrilling book to read. Link and Grant have selected a great variety of short stories to fit into this anthology; of the 15 tales included each is unique, with different ghosts and ghouls unlikely to feature in more than one tale. I think this book would appeal to a wider age group than the young adults it is aimed at, but with adults it would be more of a novelty than anything else. That said, I would recommend that anyone who did enjoy reading the likes of Goosebumps and Point Horror as a pre-teen give it a go.

I was sent a free copy of Monstrous Affections by Walker books in exchange for an honest review.

Children’s book review tour! The Griffin and Sabine Trilogy – Nick Bantock

‘All of us need to be in touch with a mysterious, tantalizing source of inspiration that teases our sense of wonder and goads us on to life’s next adventure.’  ― Rob Brezsny

Ok so these books aren’t technically children’s books; they’re very much written for adults. Instead, it’s the style of the books which is taken from traditional children’s literature – they are interactive, made up entirely of heavily illustrated postcards and private letters that you can remove from their envelopes.

I heard about this trilogy on an episode of the Books on the Nightstand podcast and knew straight away I needed to check them out. I’m always on the lookout for new things to read which are a little different; this one certainly piqued my interest.

Griffin and Sabine

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Griffin Moss:
It’s good to get in touch with you at last.
Could I have one of your fish postcards?
I think you were right – the wine glass had more impact than the cup.
Sabine Strohem

So begins this extraordinary correspondence between Griffin Moss, a postcard illustrator living in London, and Sabine Strohem, a postage stamp illustrator from the fictional Sicmon Islands.

The book is without introduction, background to the conversation, or hint as to how these two people know one another. As a reader, you begin the book in exactly the same situation as Griffin, for he also knows nothing about Sabine.

The mysterious Sabine has been linked to Griffin for many years, with the power to see his artwork through his very eyes. He struggles to believe this fact, but what choice does he have? How else would she know that he darkened the sky in his most recent painting? This begs the questions is she real? Or merely a figment of Griffins grief addled mind?

Through their correspondence Griffin gets to know Sabine, and lays bare his soul for the entire world to see. The journey through their correspondence brings them closer together, though they are separated by thousands of miles of land and ocean.

The experience of reading this book was truly amazing. I was sceptical, mainly because I knew these books had been published in the 90s but that I had somehow never heard of them until now. But I was so far from being disappointed.

As the relationship between Griffin and Sabine unfurls you are able to delve into it on such a personal level. There is something so deeply intriguing and alluring about reading the story through private correspondence, as though you can enter the minds of both Griffin and Sabine. At no point are the characters actively described in terms of appearance and yet by the end of the book I had developed a clear image of both in my mind.

The illustrations are stunning. And so they should be, drawn supposedly by professional postcard and stamp illustrators. I felt as though I could spend hours studying the images, while the text itself could probably be read in just half an hour. At times the images of the postcards seem to illustrate the passion written in the short blurbs of text.

So – you’ve been making love to me ten thousand miles away – how tantalizing.

It’s all rather steamy, I can feel myself blushing – if I feel like this what kind of affect is it going to have on Griffin?!

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Their relationship intensifies to the point that Griffin thinks himself insane, convinced that he has imagined himself a companion to sooth his troubled soul. He panics, terrified of what might happen, and attempts to break all ties with Sabine.

But she is not to be played with.

There are so many questions left unanswered. So much I want, no, need to know. Thank goodness I already have the rest of the trilogy.

Sabine’s Notebook

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Faced with the terrifying prospect of coming face to face with his own imaginary creation Griffin has fled London. Meanwhile his muse sits quietly, patiently, awaiting his return, having taken up refuge in his empty flat.

The second book is told with the same beautiful postcard and intricately decorated envelopes that make up the correspondence between the two star crossed, and, possibly imaginary lovers – but with the added bonus of doubling up as Sabine’s notebook. The pages which surround Griffin’s letters and cards serve as extra space for Sabine to doodle, sketch, wonder and muse.IMG_20150315_130227339

Griffin travels all over, Dublin, Italy, Egypt, picking his way through crumbling ruins and ancient civilisations, drawing further into the abyss of the past, running further and further away but from what? All the while Sabine sits patiently in his flat in London, or else taking the occasional excursion to more rural England, waiting for his return.

Sabine serves as Griffin’s voice of reason – guiding him on his journey, puzzling through his problems in her intricate sketches, and ultimately, leading him home to her.

The second book flings up even more questions which will leave you itching to get your hands on this third.

The Golden Mean

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Griffin is in back in London, and Sabine is back in the Sicmon Island – somehow they missed each other. But how? The final book in the trilogy sees Griffin and Sabine suffering silently against the unseen forces which keep them from one another.

‘It seems that each cannot exist in the presence of the other. Yet neither can continue without the presence of the other.’  

Sabine has returned to the Sicmon islands, she has washed her face in the sea and felt the sand between her toes, and yet she is unhappy. Her visions of Griffin’s artwork are fading, and a mysterious stranger is haunting her everywhere she goes.

The final part of the trilogy is told once again through postcards and letters, but this time the illustrations begin to take a darker form. Shadows emerge in the corners of the page, threatening to engulf that which lurks within the images. The fog leaks across the page, like that which creeps before the eyes of Griffin and Sabine, a physical representation of the dark forces at play.IMG_20150315_130321081

Desperate to be with one another Griffin and Sabine try one last time to make a connection.

Far from being a conclusion to the trilogy, The Golden Mean throws up just as many new questions as it answers old ones, and may leave the reader feeling many combinations of feelings – but I can guarantee this will not include disappointment.

From what I had heard about these books before I bought them, I expected them to be good, but not mind-blowing. I thought they would be novel – having books made out of postcards is such a quirky idea, but really, how far can a story be told in this way?

So, how do I feel now I’ve finished the books? Suitably humbled.

These books aren’t just good, they are really something special. Bantock’s artwork, imagination, and the intimacy and passion with which each letter is written combine to create a trilogy of books which really shine. The books are niche, clever and, above all, a truly epic read. I have been completely drawn in to Griffin and Sabine’s world.

I would recommend these books to crafty types, arty types, fans of children’s fiction, fans of fiction, fans of pictures books – in short, pretty much everyone, other than those who only read non-fiction.

Comic Relief 2015: The Queen’s Orang-Utan by David Walliams

Any of you literary types looking to make a donation to Comic Relief?

Hilarious new children’s book The Queen’s Orang-utan was written exclusively for Comic Relief 2015 by David Walliams.

David will be giving all of his proceeds from the book to the charity. The illustrator, Tony Ross, will waive his royalties and HarperCollins UK will also donate all profits from the publishing of the book – at least £3 from each copy sold will go to Comic Relief.

The Queen’s Orang-Utan – David Walliams

The-Queens-OrangutanFrom Number One bestselling picture book duo, David Walliams and Tony Ross, comes this spectacularly funny story for children of 3 and up.

A bored queen.

A birthday wish.

An outrageous orang-utan.

Everything’s about to go bananas!

Available to buy from Amazon and direct from HarperCollins.

Praise for David Walliams

“TV star David Walliams is as adept at writing for the under-fives as for older children.” – Daily Express

“No one has any business being as talented as David Walliams. He is one of the few comic actors who is actually funny, and is now the genius writer of ridiculously over-the-top and utterly delightful children’s books…” – Spectator

“I absolutely love David Walliams’s books. In a few more years they will become classics.” – Sue Townsend, author of Adrian Mole

“A new Roald Dahl” – The Times

“The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance.”—Robert R. Coveyou

It’s been a while since I last shared a little bit of obscure poetry with you. I must sound like a broken record by now but I really have been very busy. I am in the process trying out a new method but I’m finding it difficult to fall in love with the results I’ve been getting so you might have to wait a little while for that one (cryptic, aren’t I?).

Anyway, I recently received an email from a family friend introducing me to a new method of constructing poetry from existing poems. Some of the results are really great, and it will give you an excuse to get some of the poetry books that might be craving some attention down from your shelves.

The method is as follows:

Take poetry books (individual poets and anthologies) to use as your base. You can select as few or as many as your collection allows (the method will also work with a single book, just remove step one).

Step one. Go to www.random.org and get a random number for your range of books.

Step two. Pick out the random book and find the pages for the actual poetry, for example 13–232, enter this range in the random number generator. Take the resulting number and go to that page in the book.

Step three. Get the range of lines on the page (eg 1–24) and enter this range in the random number generator. Go to the random line, et voilà, you have a line for your random poem.

Step four. Repeat until you have the number of lines you want for your poem (however many you like!).

Step five. Use the random number generator to rearrange the lines randomly.

Step six. (optional) Choose an extra line to use as the title for your poem.

Here are some of the examples Ross sent to me:

Slipped in the wet grass
(Merioneth’s bright as billow)
See glorious ages opening to our view
So sang the grains of sand, and while they whirled
to a pattern
So snugly in the depths
Occult. By son of Man, ambiguous name,
By Ignorance and parching Poverty,
To plume a lady’s gear; the motet waits
The lady Geraldine espies
Like the leaves scattered! Pale generating
creatures of clay
And Judas was a terrible chap!
Verde que te quiero verde
And make those flights on the bankes of Thames

This poem has a few German lines and one in French, the translations of which are displayed in parentheses. This example also, as per step six, uses a 14th line as a title:

Those cruel wings
And many a skeleton shook his head
Have passed by cedar, pine and yew
Sanfter träumet und schläft in Armen der Erde der Titan (In the arms of the earth the titan lies dreaming)
Das Leben und lassen wollten sie nicht (The life and they didn’t wish to part from it)
Reif sind, in Feuer getaucht, gekochet (Ripe they are, dipped in fire, cooked)
In a cave’s heart, until a thunderstorm
Without even the encumbrance of a brother
With free long looking ere I die
Ja, schon sagt mir gerüht dein Blick, mir sagt es die Träne, (Yes, I can tell by your emotion, your eyes, your tears)
Trouve, ô Chasseur, nous le voulons (Find, O Hunter, we desire it)
Here on this very campus years ago
There’s no more to tell
I don’t know when it’s likely to get better

The results, I think, speak for themselves. Credit for the previous two poems and the method itself is to poet and author Ross Tomkins, whose book entitled Short Works is now available on Amazon.

Now for my attempt:

For the Garden
To rise from Generation free:
He who was living is now dead
with a bare bodkin?
His present blessings, and to hushed up
Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.
Cascading through the dusty road
a cage for small bikes; rows of potted plants
The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
I did not fall when I fell down the stairs
To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
His energies roll back upon his heart,
And by came an angel who had a bright key,
And underneath the spreading tree

I think this method has been my favourite so far. While it might seem a bit complicated at first it really isn’t and you soon get the hang of it. I really enjoyed trying it out and the results so far have been great (I am particularly pleased that I ended up with a couple of rhyming lines in mine). The great thing about found poetry is you can attribute any meaning to the finished product, I get a very different feel from each of the poems listed here, at the very least some sense seems to emerge from the randomness.