Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Kate Milford's The Boneshaker

So after helping Kate Milford with her wonderful KickStarter Campaign, I am reviewing the first novel in the series, The Boneshaker, illustrated by the talented Andrea Offermann. In the near future, I will also be reviewing The Broken Lands and it's companion novel, which the KickStarter Campaign funded, The Kairos Mechanism - both of which are out in September.

And after reading The Boneshaker, I can't wait to get my hands on them.

First of all, the genre. This is a tricky one. It's a YA, dark fantasy, clockpunk, gothic amalgamation set in an alternative universe version of America after the Civil War (or 'The War Between States'). It's very strange, very dark, very chilling. There are deals with the Devil, automata which never wind down, and strange visions of the past. It's just simply brilliant.

The main character, Natalie Minks, is a twelve-year-old girl who, after becoming caught up in many things she doesn't understand, shows evil it's place. If I had read this book a few years ago, she may well have been a girlhood hero - she's fierce, intelligent, determined. And she suits the book perfectly.

Best of all, for me, were the book's clockpunk elements. Some have described the book as steampunk - but it's definitely more gears and springs than coal and steam. From Natalie's beloved bicycle to the tiny automata, the intricacy of the descriptions left me with a buzz of excitement.

Finally, we have Andrea Offermann's fantastic illustrations - they work so well alongside the story and are very Tim Burton-esque. They will send shivers down your spine!

Now, off you go and buy this book - and mark September with an excited squiggle followed by a few thousand exclamation marks.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Crochet Workshop - Erika Knight

So for my 'Coming Home' post (i.e. I've been away from the blog quite a bit due to numerous horrible things which I won't go into) I decided to do something a little bit different. This is post one of my exploration of Erika Knight's new book Crochet Workshop! It's such a fantastic book that it really warrants something more than a single post saying how awesome it is - so I'm going to be reviewing it over a series of posts and updating you on the progress of my first project, a laptop cover.Firstly, as you can see from the slight curl of the cover, this book has already been much loved, despite having had it only a month. After teaching myself a little crochet by making some traditional granny squares, this book has certainly provided the next step to exploring crochet. It's very well laid-out, providing variations on squares, detailed explanations of how to make each form of stitch, and then splitting the projects by difficulty.

My favourite part of the project pages is the small 'What you will learn' section as I quite like to know what I'm practising and it's always good to know what the techniques can be used for in future. Ever the student, I like having a set of learning objectives when discovering something new!

Anyway, my first project from it is the laptop cover. I decided against using the grey coloured wool and went for a lovely, vibrant pink that I had in my stash from making granny squares. So far, I've only done the first two rows, after completely messing up  once before I got to the next stage. (See above) So I've started again and it's going a lot smoother now! I'm learning to increase and decrease, practising my double crochet and turning. Best of all, I'm enjoying it! It's a fun little project and I'll have something useful at the end of it. Once it's done, I'll need to find myself a brightly coloured zip to sew on. 

I'll tell you more about the project as it progresses, with plenty of photos, and probably some amusing screw-ups. So far, all I can say is, if you want to learn to crochet - buy this book, it's awesome! (Big 'Thank you!' to the wonderful people at Quadrille who sent me my copy).

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans is the debut novel of M. L. Stedman, published a few weeks ago on the 26th April.

The novel is set in 1920s Australia, after the First World War. The war is a catalyst for many of the novel's events, everything is finely interwoven, as the reader witnesses mistake after mistake, tragedy after tragedy. Despite the tragedies, however, there are so many beautiful aspects to the relationships within the pages. The way the characters are explored brings them to life in such a way that you can't help but fall in love with them, sympathise with them, and mix your tears with theirs.

I so desperately wanted to reach the happy ending. It didn't happen. It is one of the most tragic and beautiful novels I have come across.

If one thing is certain, it is that this book is certainly not light-hearted. While I encourage my viewers to read it, I do so with the caveat that they should not be expecting to 'enjoy' it as such. It is a wonderful, well-crafted, well-written novel, but it's just too sad to 'enjoy'. It rips you open at the heart and runs you down as you hope against hope alongside the characters. There is no happy ending, as such, except in that everyone settles and accepts their place, and strives to make the most of their lives and be happy as they are. The only chance of a happy ending comes late, and only causes more tears because of this.

Read it, love it, be rendered helpless and tear-stained.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Fifty Shades - My latest obsession

One month later - and I'm back! I'm so sorry but sometimes life takes over from my reading; in other words, I got a job and I had an essay due.

However, I'm back with the controversial BDSM romance trilogy from E. L. James. I'm going to make one thing clear before I begin: I love this trilogy. It's gotten a lot of stick for being inspired by Twilight and for it's BDSM overtones. I've seen critics describing it as 'dangerous'. To be fair on them, they've only read the first book. The way the story develops throughout the trilogy is romantic and beautiful, and in some cases terribly tragic and heart breaking.

Anastasia Steele is a final year university student, studying English. Christian Grey is the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. It starts with their chance meeting when Ana interviews him for the university newspaper, due to his links with the university. I must admit, I was sceptical at first about the story. I bought it as an ebook before it came out in paperback last week because I heard it had been such a hit in America: I wanted to know why. And the reason why is this beautiful, broken man "who is by his own admission fifty shades of f*cked up." (James)

Lets just say, I became obsessed. I can't remember the last time I read a book so quickly. I went further into my overdraft just to read the next two books as soon as possible. Within a week, I'd already started re-reading the first book. The only reason I forced myself to start reading other things is that I have other books to read and review for this blog and SteamPunk Magazine. With much reluctance, I set it aside... but I have mentioned it to almost everyone I think will love it - and I've been spot on with every recommendation so far.

Don't be put off by the fact that it's erotica and that critics are labelling it as 'dangerous' or 'smutty'. It's beautiful.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Magic in early 1900s Alaska

I wasn't supposed to be writing this review until next week but I was so struck with this beautiful and tragic novel that I couldn't wait to share it with you all. The Snow Child is the debut novel of Eowyn Ivey, and what a debut it is. I lost a lot of time to this novel, and none of it was with regret, I was completely absorbed and I adored it. It is on a level with Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus which was the book that inspired me to start this review blog.

The Snow Child is the story of a couple in their fifties who decide to try their luck at setting up a homestead in early 1920s Alaska. Between hope and desperation, they push on past the obstacles laid in their path, especially when the 'snow child' begins to flit in and out of their lives, leaving them feeling hopeful and blessed. Throughout this tale, you will find yourself torn between happiness and grief. It teeters on the edge of fantasy in this mysterious and unfamiliar world, like something out of a fairytale, and you'll gaze with childlike wonder on the descriptions of the snow and the mountains and its delicate yet fierce wildness.

I'm afraid to admit that one thing did disappoint me - the novel ends. I didn't want it to, and I wanted it to go on and on forever, past the tragedy and I wanted desperately for it to have an entirely happy ending. This doesn't stop me from adoring it. It also doesn't stop me from recommending it whole-heartedly to you.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Joshua Foer - Moonwalking with Einstein

In lieu of a post about the fantastically engaging and beautiful book, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (which I'm currently very much enjoying), I have decided to review Joshua Foer's Moonwalking with Einstein. My local bookshop, University Bookseller, runs a fantastic popular science reading group (Think Tank Book Club) and this was our book for the month. I don't usually post about books that I haven't been asked to review (mainly because I don't have enough time to do so because I have a pile of books waiting to be reviewed) but with this book, I decided I had to.

The book is Foer's journalistic self-experiment of interring himself in the world of mnemonists. Though it might sound like some kind of religious cult (it is a little bit like that...), it actually refers to the art of memory. He uses scientific and anecdotal sources to explore his experience, and makes it informative, thought-provoking and entertaining. As the quote on the cover suggests it really is "A great yarn grounded in real science". In fact, it's so good that it's the first popular science book I've managed to read all the way through. The personal narrative of a human endeavour makes it more like a story than a book about science which makes it eminently more readable than many other pop-sci books I've read.

This is what popular science should be! Engaging, entertaining and informative.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Script Frenzy 2012

So I'm doing my thing of OLL fandom once again! This time, it's Script Frenzy; from the 1st to the 30th April, I will be writing a script of 100+ pages. This post is all about inviting you, my lovely bookworms, to join me. If you're anything like me, your bookwormishness doesn't extend merely to fiction or nonfiction, but beyond that to poetry and drama (maybe not so much poetry, I guess...) We're not just talking about stageplays here, people, it's comic book scripts, screenplays, radio plays! Endless possibilities, endless opportunities, waiting to be snatched up by you!

And don't try to get out of it with excuses such as 'But I don't know how to write a script!' - the lovely people at OLL have thought of that. Click this link to be taken to their wonderful page full of guides and how-tos! And if that doesn't inspire you, watch some of your favourite films, go and see a play, stick on a great TV programme, or turn on your radio - think of all the things that you could do next month, the film you've always wanted to see but no one else has made it, the TV show you've been waiting for, the stageplay that you wished you'd seen whenever you were dragged by your teacher to the theatre!

The best thing? You simply register here and it's all free. (Though I do recommend you donate an help pay the bills towards this wonderful frenzy of script writing!) And if that still hasn't caught your attention, anyone who signs up/logs in to the Script Frenzy site before March 31st gets entered into a prize draw to win some wonderful prizes including "a playbill signed by the cast of the new Broadway comedy Seminar: Alan Rickman (Yes, the Alan Rickman!), Hamish Linklater, Lily Rabe, Hettienne Park, and Jerry O’Connell."

What on earth are you still reading this for??

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles

Care of Wooden Floors is the debut novel of Will Wiles, by day an architecture and design journalist, by night a novelist (it would seem). It was selected last month as one of the Waterstones 11 - eleven novels chosen as the best debut novels of 2012 (some more of which are to be reviewed here, such as Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child, February 2012, and Jenni Fagan's The Panopticon, May 2012). 

So. Reading Wiles' debut novel was not the easiest or most relaxing thing in the world. It is, at times, cringe-worthy - not due to the writing but due to the actions of it's protagonist. It's a little like watching Peep Show or The Worst Week of My Life - sometimes you just want to look away and grimace. It is essentially a series of increasingly unfortunate events - including negligent homicide and manslaughter, but treated in a surreal manner which feels rather... dream-like. In fact, the entire book, a series of events, predicted by a man the reader never really meets, is essentially like a dream. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong, and at the end of it all there were no consequences and the protagonist heads home feeling rather bemused and slightly philosophical.

The writing itself is heavy-handed. Layer upon layer of metaphor and simile. It's focus on building structures and architecture is obviously part of its author's passion, but I did not feel that it suited the character all that well - considering he is a freelance writer for the local council. However, once overlooked, the claustrophobic atmosphere that the language and descriptions bring actually make sense: this is a man trapped in a country he does not know, no one speaks his language, and the only place he has to call home is a flat belonging to a man with severe OCD. He is also a repressed writer. After a while, the language makes perfect sense.

I cannot in all honesty say I would ever read the book again - which is a tad unusual for me. The 'series-of-unfortunate-events'-style has never appealed to me, it makes me feel too uncomfortable, too frustrated with the character. Maybe I'm too much like his friend?

Friday, 27 January 2012

Ewart Hutton's "Good People"

This fortnight, I've spent my time with Ewart Hutton's debut novel, Good People (out on the 2nd February, next month). It aims to be the first in a series of mystery/crime novels based on the adventures of the disgraced half-Welsh, half-Italian copper, Glyn Capaldi. Its premise put me in mind of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's comedy film, Hot Fuzz: City cop makes big mistake and ends up in the back-end-of-no-where, in a community of people who are too close for comfort. However, the big differences are that Good People isn't comedy, and is a heck of a lot darker. Also, the cavalry turn up a lot sooner as well.

As you'd expect from a good crime-novel, there are plenty of twists, plenty to keep your mind ticking over, trying to get ahead of Capaldi himself. It is an enjoyable and easy read, though at first for me Capaldi's character really grated. He sounds like something out of an American crime drama - he wouldn't have been out of place in New York. However, he is out of place in Cardiff and South Wales... fortunately that voice wears down into something a lot more readable and believable. Hutton, a little way in, finds Capaldi's real voice and that's when the fun really begins.

Saying this, the story doesn't leave you waiting around, ready for something to happen for the sake of long-haul character development - it doesn't immediately indulge in describing Capaldi's past. We pick up hints of what happened to him in Cardiff, but only enough to keep whetting our appetites - the story in the background of the current mystery. It's very well put together, and it knows it's part of a series - there's plenty of time to get to know the characters over the next stretch of books so it gives us information on a need-to-know basis.

In the strain of recent crime dramas, such as CSI, Hutton bravely takes on a disturbing crime for his first novel. Sexual deviancy with a side order of murder, in plenty of detail. For some more delicately-minded readers, it might not be the best read. Personally, it doesn't faze me - but I've read another review where one person was affected by it (A great detective story, just a bit graphic - a fellow Waterstones reviewer). However, as I pointed out before, if you've watched enough CSI Vegas in the last couple of years, sexual deviancy is probably not a problem.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel, I pretty much just sat and read the whole thing over a couple of nights, quite happily. I even allowed a number of cups of tea to go cold in the process! I'm looking forward to seeing what the next novel might bring.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Season of Light by Katherine McMahon (Finally...)

Well, Christmas and the start of term have been very busy for me! Essays, organising conferences, researching for curating an exhibition, job applications - and an interview! - and obviously course-related reading and essays... but now things have settled down, I'm finally able to give you my review of Katherine McMahon's Season of Light! (Please forgive me for being so late with it...)

I love historical fiction, it's something about the settings and the fashion... this one particularly caught my eye as it is set around the time of the French Revolution and deals heavily in the idea of cosmopolitanism which was rife with women of eighteenth-century Britain. As you can tell, it intrigued me because the eighteenth-century is my specialism. Usually, when I pick up historical fiction, it's based in the era of the Tudors, in the strain of Philippa Gregory or Hilary Mantel. I know enough of the period to enjoy the books, and not enough to make me skeptical of what is written. All I can say is, I was very pleasantly surprised that my specialism did not blind me to the brilliance of Season of Light (and, indeed, it gave me no particular pause for thought in that way). I even smiled as a familiar name popped up here and there, such as Madame Genlis or the better known Robespierre.

It begins with a quote from Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities (a World Book Night book for 2012!) which is where the novel gets it's title, Season of Light. The quote really sets the scene, Dickens' view of the division of opinions during the the French Revolution really hits the spot for me. It was a time of fear, intrigue, and terror, and also hope, whether you were French or British. The story encapsulates this in the whirlwind romance and desperation of Asa's situation, which is so easy to get drawn into. If you enjoy Jane Austen, you will enjoy this more - the feisty heroines and their bold independence are even more engaging.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Joy of Books

A delightful stop motion animation from a Canadian couple - I loved it so much, I just had to share! ^_^

New review coming up this Thursday!