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.

“And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter— they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long.” ― Sylvia Plath

There are two sides to every story

The Confidant – Hélène Grémillon

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Another truly beautiful piece of literature to add to my read list. ‘The Confidant’ was given to me by my partners godparents as a Christmas present last year, and sadly ended up hidden in the bottom of a box until a few weeks ago, one of the downsides of having moved house and never fully unpacked. Having just read and thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ I was excited at the prospect of getting started on another piece of French literature, and potentially giving myself a nice topic of conversation for our next family dinner.

‘The truth lies hidden in the past’ is such a fitting tagline for this novel. Grémillon draws the reader into the depths of a long hidden secret, of longing, forbidden love, betrayal, and revenge. The novel achieves an almost perfect blend of historical narration, thrilling suspense and harsh reality, the result of which is truly stunning.

It is 1975, and in her apartment in Paris, Camille receives an anonymous letter, a letter narrating the lives individuals seemingly unrelated to Camille, surely the letter has been sent to her by mistake? The anonymous letters continue to fill the post box of Camille’s Paris flat, and a long hidden secret begins to unravel before her very eyes. As the story unfolds Camille becomes desperate to discover the source of the letters, before finally succumbing to the realisation that it is her own story which is being told. The story of pre war France, a young boy in love, a young girl eager to please, and a rich and lonely madame is inextricably linked to Camille’s unlikely friendship with the concierge of her apartment building, the recent death of her mother, and the future of her unborn child.

What struck me about this book was the profound effect it has on my emotions. As the secret unraveled I found myself taken on an emotional journey of empathy and hatred of Annie, and simultaneous hatred, and empathy for Madame M. There are two sides to every story, and Grémillon highlights this so perfectly, by the end of the novel I felt as though neither character did anything wrong. Their actions were inevitable, driven by emotion and instinct.

The story presents a fierce, raw examination of women, coupling motherhood and feminism with love, passion, and desire. In this respect there was one theme in particular that struck a chord with me, and that is Grémillon’s unrestrained examination of infertility.

Madame M’s yearning to have a baby is spoken of at length throughout the novel, and I find the way in which her desires are portrayed incredibly moving. The world around M seems almost super fertile, numerous women in Paris are falling pregnant, and the newspapers are awash with stories crying for the need for more babies:

‘Have more Children! Have more children, France must make up for her losses in 1914’.

M is described as going to all lengths to sure her infertility, even physically injuring herself in a desperate hope that someday she will discover a solution. She describes her constant consumption of an aphrodisiac made from wine and spices,  resorting even to bathing in the concoction to the point where:

‘Over time my skin acquired a spicy scent that disgusted me’

Gremillon delves further into the realms of M’s depression, describing at length her dismay at her sudden transformation into ‘the infertile woman’. What I think is the most striking description of this comes during a dinner with her Husbands family, his grandmother makes an announcement that someone at the table is with child, and the guests begin to guess who it could be:

‘Every name except Granny’s and my own. Because it was no longer possible for her, and for me, it never had been.’

This seems to be time when M finally succumbs to the fact that she will forever be the elephant in the room, the person whom everyone must be careful around, who is looked upon with pity. I found reading the following passage quite emotional, my heart goes out to anyone, who is ever made to feel this way:

‘Suddenly her eyes met mine and she looked away at once, her broad radiant smile frozen on her face, and a moment of awkwardness spread round the table. Silence. The game had yielded to the weight of reality, my reality. At that moment I realised I had become ‘the infertile woman’ in the family, the one whose presence absolutely precluded any displays of joy , the one who was so unfortunate that the happiness of others could prove fatal. My shame was confirmed

M’s story touched on something I feel is shied away from far too often: the unspoken ‘shame’ that is placed upon infertile woman. I found myself asking why? Why is being infertile considered something to be embarrassed about? The following quote was taken from a comment on a feministphilosophers blog post ‘On Becoming Infertile – Part 1’:

‘I feel like I’ve often been treated like a faulty baby machine rather than a person. The guilt, the shame, the sense of failure, the indignation and the grief have all been a lot to deal with’ (Commenter: L Stokes).

The idea that anyone should be made to feel this way is incredibly sad. M’s story took place in the early 20th century, and this is an issue that is still felt today. I very much admire Grémillon for approaching the subject.

There is so much more I could say about this book, so many themes which could be explored, but I feel I have written enough for now. For anyone reading this who has not, I would urge you to read the book, it is a beautifully written, thought provoking read. You will not be disappointed as you read the final page, and see the secret of fully unraveled and laying before you in its entirety. The novel is captivating to read and satisfying to have read.

When I finished ‘The Confidant’ I felt the indescribable mix of sadness and fulfillment which accompanies the completion of a really fantastic novel.