Snow, Glass, Apples – Neil Gaiman & Colleen Doran

45303582._SY475_.jpgSnow, Glass, Apples is a magical fantasy retelling of Snow White, in which a not-so-evil queen attempts to rid the world of her monstrous step-daughter.

This a dark and twisted retelling, very different from the classic fairy tale. In this version, Snow White is a blood-sucking creature who causes the death of her own father and terrifies the young queen into taking drastic measures to be rid of her. It contains many elements of the original fairy tale, following the same general plot, but with a totally different, much more chilling vibe.

Despite being a fairy tale, this book is definitely not appropriate for younger readers. There is explicit content, both sexual and violent, that make it very adult.

Colleen Doran’s illustrations are stunning. They’re detailed and beautiful and complement the story brilliantly. Even if you’re not usually a fan of graphic novels, there is no denying the beauty of this one.

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In at the Deep End – Kate Davies

42089727._SY475_.jpgJulia hasn’t had sex in three years, and she’s about to learn that she’s been looking for love in all the wrong places. Embarking on an eye-opening journey into lesbianism, Julia opens herself up to some brand new and pretty niche experiences, including an LGBT swing dance class, raves, conceptual art shows, polygamy, S&M and sex clubs. She has well and truly jumped in at the deep end.

On the surface, this book really doesn’t sound that great, but something about it had me completely hooked.

There is a tonne of sex. It’s frank and filthy, but in a very direct, explanatory kind of way. The sexual activities throughout the story are pretty detailed (including strap-on dildos, fisting, etc) but not erotic at all. This book is filled with pure filth, but it isn’t designed to turn you on – which makes it remarkably readable (even for someone quite prudish like me).

While about 70% of the book is filled with sexual content, Julia spends at least 20% of it crying. In at the Deep End is surprisingly emotional, with some great characters who I found myself really caring about.

Julia herself is a great lead character. She’s witty, likeable – despite her denial and poor taste in girlfriends – and very real, and there’s a full cast of fantastic secondary characters, like Julia’s swing-dance friends and her WWII-veteran pen-pal. My personal favourite was her therapist, who absolutely should not be qualified to do that job but was brilliant nonetheless.

This book is a brilliantly written, straight-talking, up-front and funny read which I enjoyed way more than I expected to.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Bored Of The Rings – The Harvard Lampoon

45298617.jpgThis funny, rude parody of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings tells the story of Frito the boggie and his friends, Goodgulf, Arrowroot, Legolam, Gimlet and the rest as they head off to destroy a magic ring in the pits of Fordor.

Honestly, the best thing about this book is that they managed not to overdo it. The entire Tolkien trilogy is covered in less than 200 pages and, somehow, no vital aspects of the story are left out. The first book is parodied in a lot more detail than #2 and #3, but that’s really for the best because, although it’s funny, Bored of the Rings would have dragged if it had been much longer.

The humour in this book isn’t subtle in any way. It is silly, rude and childish, often falling back on the simplest forms of wit (Uncle Dildo being a prime example), and yet it is somehow very clever. There are quite a lot of cultural references that are out of date (e.g. Goodgulf is apparently a reference to a brand of gasoline), but enough of it has withstood the test of time and will be amusing to most generations.

The funniest parts were almost definitely the character names and their altered personalities. Arrowroot, son of Arrowshirt, a useless dolt instead of the handsome, heroic Aragorn and Tim Benzedrino (Tom Bombadill) as a drugged-out hippie were my favourites.

I’d never read a parody before this, and I can see both sides of why people do or don’t like them. On the one hand, I don’t feel like I’ve gained anything having read this book. But on the other hand, it did make me laugh.

I received a copy of the 50th anniversary edition of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams

36586697Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London. After a painful breakup from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie goes off the rails, seeking comfort in the arms of men who are all wrong, pushing her friends away, and putting her career at risk.

I really enjoyed the honesty of the narration. Queenie is well aware – throughout the entire book – that she’s making bad decisions. She knows that what she’s doing isn’t good for her and questions why she’s doing it, then does it anyway. It actually took me a long time to warm up to Queenie. I’ve also recently gone through a very painful breakup, but I couldn’t sympathise with her meek, desperate attitude towards her ex. It wasn’t until her deeper, childhood issues were covered that I was able to understand where she was coming from.

I adored Queenie’s family (especially Diana and her grandparents), and the Corgis group chat was brilliant. However, this book isn’t all fun and humour. Queenie is funny, with a witty narrative voice and some entertaining stories, but the book also goes to some pretty dark places. The sexual content was completely unexpected and quite explicit, while the mental-health issues explored are really serious. Queenie is marketed as something along the lines of Bridget Jones’ Diary, but it’s a lot more intense and real than that.

On the whole, this is a reasonably enjoyable, relatable and relevant book, with a strong (but not over-bearing) feminist feel to it. But I’m not sure it’s a book that we “need”. Unlike other culturally important books (I’m thinking The Hate U Give), I don’t think I’d describe Queenie as a must-read.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Butterfly Garden – Dot Hutchison

29981261.jpgIn a beautiful garden hidden away on private land, young women are kidnapped and kept as butterflies, tattooed and preserved by a man known to them only as the Gardener. After more than 30 years, the garden has been discovered and a survivor is bought in for questioning. As the girl tells her story, FBI agents Hanoverian and Eddison start to think that there may be more to her story than she’s letting on.

The Butterfly Garden is truly horrendous and awful but so, so brilliant. There are heavy themes of rape, violence and other abuse, but, although they are explicitly mentioned, these are never explicitly described. As I said, completely horrendous subject matter but a fantastic detective/thriller story.

There were, one or two problematic factors, such as how no one even tried to escape (despite having possible opportunities and weapons), but it was sort of understandable at the same time: they were scared and honestly didn’t think they had a chance. I also did not like the twist at the end (no spoilers), but the rest of the story was excellent.

Maya was an interesting character because her narrative voice was so strong. She was a completely believable character and hearing the story through her was great. However, I didn’t really like her personality (although I’m not totally sure we’re really meant to). There were a lot of other strong characters, some of which we see much more than others. My personal favourites were Bliss and Special Agent Victor Hanovarian.

The story being told through an FBI interview with Maya was brilliant. It was a very effective way of telling the horror story of the garden, while keeping the book within the detective/crime genre and it gave the story a much more interesting perspective.

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Blog Tour: Ghost Virus – Graham Masterton

Today is my stop on the tour for Graham Masterton’s gory Ghost Virus. Thank you very much to Head of Zeus for having me; I hope you enjoy my review!

38195824A series of violent murders break out in the Tooting area of London, inexplicably linked by items of second-hand clothing. DC Pardoe and DS Patel are assigned to the case and, as the murders continue and get more and more gory, they start to wonder is something supernatural is behind the killing.

Ghost Virus was a LOT more gory than I was expecting. It’s the kind of book where crime/mystery and horror cross over – not for the faint hearted or easily grossed-out. But, at the same time, the graphic details weren’t unnecessary or merely there for shock factor; they were a part of the story, making them an unpleasant but effectual feature of the book.

To be honest, the premise sounds completely ridiculous: clothing becoming possessed by evil spirits and killing people. Not only that, but apparently the clothing is unstoppable (my first thought: grab a flame thrower). But, in fact, it’s great. I loved the writing. The detectives are classic (fictional) British cops, the kind we see all the time on telly and love. (There was a lot of cockney slang used throughout the book, though, which non-British readers mind find difficult to understand).

The relationship between Jerry and Jamila felt genuine and was fun to read about. They came across as believable partners with an attraction to each other, and none of it was forced. Thanks to the intense situation they find themselves in, neither of them act upon their feelings until a pretty realistic time, so the romance fitted into the story as a nice undercurrent and never eclipsed the plot.

Overall, Ghost Virus is gory, gross and a lot of fun. Definitely worth a go.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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A Horse Walks into a Bar – David Grossman

34211922In a club in a small Israeli town, a comedian gives a shocked audience the most unconventional stand-up performance they’ve ever seen. While some choose to get up and leave, others remain enthralled and entranced, watching the comedian, Dovaleh G, fall apart on stage.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t get this book. It recently won the Man Booker International Prize, so I was intrigued and wanted to give it a go. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, it seems to have won the award purely because of its unusual style and relatively hard-hitting subject matter rather than for the quality of the actual story.

The book is written in real-time, from the perspective of an audience member: a childhood friend of Dovaleh who has been summoned to the show at his request (though he doesn’t really understand why, or particularly want to be there). Despite the suggestive title and the setting of a comedy club, A Horse Walks into a Bar is not funny. It isn’t even remotely amusing and is barely entertaining. Reading the book, I felt exactly the same way as the audience members who chose to get up and leave. As it happens, this may well have been the desired effect and, if so, the book is remarkably well written (if not, then oh dear). Although I give the author kudos for his impressive and unconventional writing abilities, getting through this book was a painful and unpleasant experience.

Dovaleh himself was probably the most difficult thing about this novel. He was not likeable and was too annoying to be particularly interesting, yet we follow his entire rambling narrative from start to finish. I skim-read large portions of the book, until right near the very end where things did admittedly pick up and become marginally more engaging. He covers multiple themes during his on-stage breakdown, including friendship, betrayal, revenge and the Holocaust. Sadly, most of this went over my head (probably largely down to the skim-reading, but I’m holding the book responsible for not drawing me in enough).

There is no question that this is a clever book, and probably worth a read, but it is not even remotely enjoyable.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Gather The Daughters – Jennie Melamed

35066549.jpgFirst things first, this book is absolutely brilliant.

Perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale, this is the story of an isolated island cult where girls live as wives-in-training, knowledge of the world outside is kept to a minimum, and men rule everything. Girls must obey and serve their fathers, until their summer of fruition when they must marry and have children. But what happens when inquisitive minds start to question this way of life? Some secrets simply cannot be kept forever.

When I first started this book, I really wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it. The subject matter was rather intense and creepy, and I didn’t particularly like the writing style (different points-of-view, all present tense). However, after the first few chapters I was completely and utterly drawn in, and the style really fit the book. Jennie Melamed’s narrative voice is very strong, while the concept is both fascinating and dreadful. It was similar to The Handmaid’s Tale in the sense that it is a story of female oppression and uprising, but on a very different and original thread. It actually wasn’t really what I was expecting at all, and all the better for it.

It should be noted that the book might need some trigger warnings: the entire concept is based on child abuse, domestic abuse, sexual abuse and incest, but this is all implied rather than explicitly referred to. There are no graphic descriptions and the reader is required to fill in the blanks themselves (which can be considered to be better or worse depending on your imagination).

As you may have guessed, some of the implied content is fairly horrific (at least to those of us living comfortable lives in the western world). But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Some parts of the story are fun and uplifting, and the characters are fantastic. I LOVED that this story is told from the point-of-view of the young girls, rather than their mothers, and getting to read the story from the point of multiple girls allowed a full and rounded view of the situation.

My single criticism is that the ending is very unsatisfactory, but it is actually a perfectly apt end to this novel. 5 stars. A must-read.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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All That’s Left to Tell – Daniel Lowe

35056167This is a difficult book to sum-up, but I’ll do my best!

Marc Laurent, having been taken hostage in Pakistan, receives a visitor every night. He is bound and blindfolded, and then a woman named Josephine comes to question him. To begin with, she only wants to know who to contact to ransom him, but soon her questions become more difficult, more probing, as she asks why he didn’t go home for his daughter, Claire’s, funeral. Josephine begins to tell Marc a story about his daughter’s life had she not been killed, and in turn Marc starts to tell his own stories about Claire’s life. As truth and fantasy become so mixed that Marc can no longer tell which is real, a father and daughter start finding ways to understand each other again.

All That’s Left to Tell is a compelling slow-burner, and truly fascinating. Like Marc, I found myself utterly pulled in by Josephine’s stories, and desperate to find out what happened to Claire despite knowing it wasn’t real. There are stories within stories and trying to work out which were true and decipher the meaning behind Josephine’s story-telling was both fun and frustrating.

Not knowing which parts were real and which were made-up made this book a unique read: mysterious, engaging and unlike anything I’ve read before. It is skilfully written and completely engrossing, despite the plot not being very eventful or exciting. I highly recommend it.

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The Vorrh – B. Catling

30145285Okay, so usually I try to write my own mini synopsis of the book, but explaining The Vorrh is way too hard so I’m going to take the blurb provided on Goodreads:

Bakelite robots lie broken – their hard shells cracked by human desire – and an inquisitive Cyclops waits for his keeper and guardian, growing in all directions. Beyond the colonial city of Essenwald lies the Vorrh, the forest which sucks souls and wipes minds. There, a writer heads out on a giddy mission to experience otherness, fallen angels observe humanity from afar, and two hunters – one carrying a bow carved from his lover, the other a charmed Lee-Enfield rifle – fight to the end. Thousands of miles away, famed photographer Eadweard Muybridge attempts to capture the ultimate truth, as rifle heiress Sarah Winchester erects a house to protect her from the spirits of her gun’s victims.

I don’t really know how to review this book. It’s a special one, for sure, but one I didn’t totally get. There are a load of different storylines, which was confusing and difficult to see how they all connected – like a whole bunch of voices all speaking at once – and I still don’t fully understand the entire premise of the story. For the first half of the book I didn’t know what was going on, but I powered through and WOW. Despite my lack of understanding, I was completely engrossed. I was able to start seeing connections between the individual plots and felt a real connection with some of the characters. By the last quarter, I couldn’t put it down.

Catling’s writing is so poetic and beautiful – a work of art more than just a story. Although that is in many ways a good thing, it also made the book more difficult to read. None of the phrasing was straightforward, and I had to concentrate quite hard to find the meaning behind the beauty.

I think really my main problem with The Vorrh was that it is so unbelievably stunning and creative (also with some very weird content) that I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. This is more a criticism of my own lack of imagination than Catling’s abilities as an author, and I would definitely recommend at least giving it a try. I get the feeling that this book will be very marmite: you will either love it, or hate it.

Many thanks to Coronet and Bookbridgr for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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