Review: The Chronicles of Alice (Christina Henry)

During a trip to Waterstones recently, I came across a 2 part series called The Chronicles of Alice by Christina Henry; split into the books ‘Alice’ and ‘Red Queen’. I’m a huge lover of Lewis Carroll’s idea of Wonderland and have always preferred the much darker side of this universe than the one portrayed by Disney studios in their original 1951 film. I was not disappointed.

Beginning with ‘Alice’, the book introduces the protagonist. Henry’s Alice is a patient of a dire sounding mental institution in the Old City, where she was placed by her parents following her incessant mutterings of a white rabbit and a tea party. Despite being in solitude in her cell, she is not alone. We are instead introduced to Hatcher, the angry resident in the cell next door who gained his stay following his axe attack. While being a true lover of Alice and her stories, I have to agree that this initial idea made sense to me. If you knew of someone telling you about a tea party they had after following a white rabbit down a rabbit hole, wouldn’t you believe they were crazy?

Hatcher spends his time talking about a Jabberwocky; a dark force that he believes longs to be free, while being housed in the basement of their mental institution. If you’re an avid fan of Lewis Carroll, you will have realised the homage to Alice Through the Looking Glass where Carroll writes of Alice discovering the nonsense poem of the Jabberwocky. I thought the inclusion of the character was fantastic, particularly as a central feature of the book. Following a fire in the institution, Hatcher and Alice escape and fall into the dystopian landscape of the Old City; a grey and vile sounding area where overcrowding and female trafficking are commonplace. However, the fire leads to the release of the Jabberwocky, the invisible entity who causes strong, debilitating feelings of suffering wherever he goes. As a result, both Alice and Hatcher (who as a Seer, holds a mental connection to the Jabberwocky) embark on a journey across the Old City to defeat the Jabberwocky and the Rabbit; a character who becomes increasingly evil as Alice’s memories of him slowly return. No trip with Alice would be complete without an introduction to the Cheshire Cat, who is fantastically hindering in Henry’s story and really captures the dark yet playful spirit that he should have. The Caterpillar is also included, who like the Rabbit and the Jabberwocky is told as a dark entity who must be stopped in order to save both his area of the Old City, as well as those in his lair.

The first book of the series draws to a close with a slight anticlimax, as the long awaited reunion of Alice and the White Rabbit is over in just a few pages. However, the real ending comes with the defeat of the Jabberwocky and the acceptance by Alice that she is a magician and the only one who can wield the power to defeat him. Overall, ‘Alice’ is a fantastic introduction to the series and details each of the characters both before and as we come across them. My only complaint, which I must stress is extremely small, is that when we do finally come across each of these characters, their interactions with Alice and Hatcher are over far too quickly!

Nevertheless, I dove into the sequel ‘Red Queen’ without hesitation. This book continues from the original story, and follows Hatcher and Alice on their journey out of the Old City, into the luscious fields of the lands outside. However, in a true dystopian style; on arrival Alice is greeted by a far different sight. All around them are the ashes of scorched ground and the burnt remains of those freed from the Caterpillar in the last tale, who had dreamed of their freedom. Can Alice and Hatcher discover the cause of this devastation, and put the world right?

Well, of course they can as Henry writes yet another fantastic book. During what feels like another eternal journey, the characters meet magicians, giants, a mind-controlling goblin and flying ships with mysterious pilots who appear to be the cause of the trouble. However, the real gem of this book is the clouded introduction of the Red Queen; a character who actually isn’t a character at all. We first see her following Alice’s journey to the land of the evil White Queen, the being who killed her sister the Red Queen in order to claim all of the power for herself and thus throwing the world out of sync. The Red Queen appears to Alice in a tree, with a crown containing her magic and essence calling out to be worn by the protagonist and defeat the wicked White Queen. To skip over as many spoilers as I can, Alice eventually meets and kills the Queen who turns out to be a familiar face to our characters.

The ‘Red Queen’ is another story of magic, and introduces us to yet more characters from Carroll’s universe that have been delightfully rewritten by Christina Henry. Similarly to the first book, the story lies in the journey that the protagonists take as the ending takes place in just a few pages which did leave me wanting more. However, I would happily recommend these books to anyone who enjoys the darker side of Alice in Wonderland, as they are fantastically well written and thought out, with Henry really making them her own. I cannot wait to read her next re-imagining, The Lost Boy being released on the 4th July 2017.

Review: The Other Boleyn Girl (Philippa Gregory)

My obsession with historical fiction started with the Cousins War series that I read a few months ago, my first experience of Philippa Gregory. I’ve recently finished her 2002 Romance Novel of the Year; The Other Boleyn Girl which follows the character of Mary Boleyn and the story of her involvement with King Henry VIII, her life outside of the affair and the rise of her sister Anne Boleyn to Queen Anne of England.

As with all historical fiction books, it’s important to remember that they are written by authors rather than practised historians and therefore inaccuracies are likely to happen. From my experience with reading the work of several authors within the genre, it seems that Gregory does take slightly more liberties on the historical accuracy than others but I believe that is because she includes slightly more obscure characters, for example not much is known about the life of Mary Boleyn. However, I do truly adore her writing style and I will be reviewing the book as a work of fiction, rather than with a comparison to any form of historical fact.

Before reading The Other Boleyn Girl, I had seen the 2008 movie adaptation featuring Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman and was fascinated at the concept of the Tudor king caught between two sisters from an insanely ambitious family.
The book opens with Mary as a newlywed fourteen-year-old girl at court, just before the return home of her sister Anne from the French court. Despite this she catches the eye of King Henry VIII and the Howard family soon pushes her into his bed before ensuring she becomes the favourite mistress of the king during his marriage to Queen Katherine of Aragon thus breaking their friendship. Mary’s recent marriage to William Carey was cast aside and she became pregnant with the king’s child, a son named Henry Carey. Her pregnancy became her downfall as the Howards thrust Anne in the eye of King Henry, in order to keep his focus against the Seymour girls and under their influence. Upon her return, Mary became the favourite once again but soon fell pregnant for a second time. This child was to be her last with the king as Anne rose to become the favoured Howard girl. The book then revolves around the rise of Anne Boleyn and her actions which led to King Henry VIII cutting ties with the Catholic Church in order to divorce Queen Katherine and take Anne as his wife. The book rotates between two story lines; Queen Anne’s desperation to conceive a son and her rumoured incest with her brother George, and Mary’s secret marriage to William Stafford and her longing for a country life with her children. Reading of the infamous rise to power of Anne Boleyn is captivating, particularly when told through the eyes of her sister and confident Mary. It is truly endearing when Mary falls in love with William Stafford and is able to marry for love for the first time, even if it initially led to her banishment from court.
Mary constantly turns on the wheel of favour with her own family, first as the favoured whore and then as a possible marriage partner for King Henry VIII when Anne initially falls from favour and then finally as an outcast. Philippa’s character is quite gripping and so wrongly treated by those who should care about her, which makes the whole narrative so intriguing as you wait to see what happens next.

I found myself longing to witness the lavish banquets, see the decadent Queen’s rooms and slap Anne Boleyn for her repeated attacks against Mary. While the historical accuracy of the novel may be called into question, as with any historical fiction piece, you cannot suggest that Philippa Gregory does not have a captivating writing style. Ultimately the story is a sad one, Mary loses first her brother and then her sister to King Henry VIII’s temper before she disappears into oblivion with her husband William Stafford and her two children, in an attempt to keep her life. However, for the first time, Mary is able to make her life whatever she wants it to be. The Other Boleyn Girl is a must read for any Tudor fan.

First Girl Museum Inc. Post!

Hi everyone,

I’ve recently started a Curatorial Internship with the Girl Museum, an online museum that celebrates girlhood throughout world history.

My very first online post as part of this has just gone live, and I’d love if you could check it out and tell me what you think.

Ancient Egyptian Makeup at the British Museum

I’m hoping to centre most of my blog posts around Mythological Girls in preparation for my exhibition on them, but I’ll be popping some other ones in there too. I definitely recommend the museum, the exhibitions are extremely varied and the blog posts are on so many different topics.

Thanks!

Review: The Mortal Instruments Series (Cassandra Clare)

Instead of writing individual blog posts as I have done in the past, I’ve chosen to review The Mortal Instruments series as a whole collection otherwise it’d get quite repetitive. Please note, I have tried my very best to avoid spoilers but some may have slipped through in order to give a complete review.

If you’re not aware of the series by Cassandra Clare, it’s made up of the following books:
City of Bones
City of Ashes
City of Glass
City of Fallen Angels
City of Lost Souls
City of Heavenly Fire

The popular series has had several adaptations as well, starting with the 2013 film The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones starring Lily Collins, which sadly was never followed through into further films of the remaining five books. Fans of the series are not left disappointed however as the Netflix series Shadowhunters brings the story to the smaller screens. If you do read the books and become a fan, I highly recommend watching both adaptations as they’re both very well done in my opinion (but you do find yourself comparing the two…!).

The Mortal Instruments series begins in New York with the introduction of Clary Fray; a just turned sixteen year old aspiring artist who lives with her mother Jocelyn. Her, along with her best friend Simon Lewis, appear to lead an utterly normal life until an image begins to reoccur throughout Clary’s artwork. As she begins to notice its appearance, she happens upon the symbol by chance and hurtles into the existence of Jace Wayland and brother-sister pair Isabelle and Alec Lightwood, Shadowhunters who go unseen by normal ‘mundane’ humans. After realising she was not all as she originally seemed, Jace follows her and saves her life after an attack on her life by a demon who assisted in the kidnap of her mother. Clary quickly discovers her mother has hidden a secret from her throughout her life…she’s a Shadowhunter and the daughter of an extremely powerful and unstable dark hunter named Valentine.
The series centres around Clary, her introduction into the world of the “Nephilm” and her accidental formation of a bizarre group of demon hunters; made up of Simon the mundane, Isabelle, Alec and Jace the Shadowhunters and a centuries (possibly millennia) old powerful warlock named Magnus Bane. The plot gets further into the surreal as more enemies are introduced, angels are summoned and the group dart between worlds. Overall the story has everything you could want in a fantasy series; mystery, civil wars, powerful demons, love and devastating tragedy. There’s also the “knock you in the stomach and kick you while your down” twist that two of the central characters are related.

I’ve recently re-read all of The Mortal Instruments and I have to say, I’m already keen to read them again. Clare has written them exceptionally well, as they manage to keep gripping the reader’s attention no matter how familiar they may be with the story. As a folk-lore and theology enthusiast, I love the attention to detail with the characters. For example, the “Nephilm” in the text are the angel-blooded Shadowhunters; which directly equates to the Christian book of Genesis where a Nephilm is the offspring of God. Similarly the land of the Seelie court that Cassandra Clare describes, the referenced Unseelie court and the attention to detail with “fairies can’t lie but they can trick” is straight from Scottish folklore. All of this adds up to a very enjoyable series that I wholeheartedly recommend if you enjoy fantasy fiction.
I have one small complaint however, not in the story or any of the detail that I’ve just mentioned. Why, just why, did you have to make them related. As a reader and particularly as a re-reader of the series, you continuously experience an uncomfortable and strange support of incest every time the characters so much as glance at each other in a romantic way. This isn’t a pleasant feeling, I will warn you now, it is an awkward and uncomfortable feeling, particularly as Clare toys with your emotions by occasionally throwing a sliver of doubt into the mix. While this feeling isn’t good, I do believe that this shows her to be a truly great writer.

In addition to the many short stories that Clare has written on the subject, there are also two connected full-series in relation to the Shadowhunting world. The Infernal Devices is the first, which acts as a prequel as well as her newly released book Lady Midnight which is the first instalment of The Dark Artifices series where the events in Los Angeles commence five years after the Heavenly war. I can’t wait to read them both!

 

 

Favourite Book Quote

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

– George Orwell, 1984

 

This is without a doubt my favourite quote from any book. As a first line it opens the story with the perfect amount of ‘oddness’ and immediately makes the reader feel uneasy; a very relevant feeling for the rest of the book.

That’s mine, what’s your favourite book quote?

Review: The Godfather (Mario Puzo)

It is a little known fact about me that I’ve never watched more than the first twenty minutes of the film The Godfather.

I can physically hear film addicts scream at me through the screen as I type this.

Please don’t get me wrong, I really want to and I’ve bought the trilogy to motivate me; it just hasn’t happened yet. Another (irrelevant) fact about me is that I have never got a question about The Godfather or the soundtrack wrong in any pub quiz in my life, don’t ask me how. I am pleased to say that I have now corrected this by reading the novel; which as a reader is the way I prefer to do things anyway.

I will admit that this genre isn’t something I would normally choose to read if I was given the option, however I decided to delve into Mario Puzo’s novel as it’s so well established as a classic. As a commuter I have plenty of time to read, something I am definitely grateful for as it means I have the chance to vanish into another world for two lots of twenty minutes every day. What I wasn’t grateful for is the utter obsession with the Mafia that this book then gave me. I spent my lunch periods for over a week researching the origins and history of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and their journey to New York to become the infamous ‘Five Families’, what their involvement was with infamous members of American historical figures such as Al Capone and which branches were still active and where.

My conclusion after reading The Godfather is that it’s a truly unique experience. From my research into the subject, I understand that its 1969 publication was the first introduction of Italian criminal vocabulary into a wider English-speaking audience. The back story to the plot is absolutely fascinating; the idea of Johnny Fontane being based around Frank Sinatra and the Don, Vito Corleone, being centred around the real-life actions of bosses Frank Costello and Carlo Gambino of the Luciano and Gambino families, adds an air of historicity to the novel which makes you question how much of it could have actually happened in 1940’s and 50’s New York. The book itself is so well written that it feels like every time there’s a ‘hit’ on a character, you’re standing bang centre in the middle of the crime scene waiting for the police to arrive and arrest you. The Corleone family all have such different personalities that I am glad that Puzo included their inner conflicts within the text, as well as providing them with situations where they must work together and result in a strong and reckon-able force against the other Families. A particularly warming moment for me was the demonstration of love and worry shown by Santino (‘Sonny’) for his sister Connie.

Out of all of the books I have read since I started this blog, I can confidently say that this one has stood out the most and for all of the best reasons. The story is captivating, the characters are complex and as the plot is rumoured to be based around real events, it comes as no surprise how lifelike and interesting the narrative is. If you are going to read any book that I’ve reviewed then please make it this one. I really can’t wait to carry on with the rest of the series.

 

 

I’m late to the Jessie Burton bandwagon yet again…

Well hello there!

As WordPress so kindly tells me, it has been four months since my little writing hiatus. So after a tiny bit of thought, I figured there was no better way to come back than with some (old) news about one of my favourite authors,  Jessie Burton!

If you read my blog regularly then you might remember my review of her first novel The Miniaturist in March 2015. The book was most certainly my favourite of the year; it was beautifully written and the plot was beyond captivating, securing her as one of my authors to watch. Since then it appears that Jessie Burton has kept extremely busy. The television option rights for The Miniaturist were secured by Company Pictures meaning that if we keep our fingers crossed, we’ll hopefully be seeing the mysterious dollhouse on our small screens soon enough.

The real news though…is her upcoming book! The Muse is due for release here in the U.K. on the 30th June 2016 according to jessieburton.co.uk and it’s already got excited. While there’s not much to know yet, it seems to be split between 1960’s London and 1930’s Spain, with a painting connecting the two worlds. After her first book, Burton has confirmed she can most certainly do mysterious objects justice so I’m very excited to see what’s in store. I can’t wait to read it and I’ll definitely make sure I post a review on time for this one!

Blog Hiatus.

First I’d like to apologise for the silence lately! I was sucked into MA dissertation land and have been unable to respond to review requests or publish anything new. 

Due to other commitments at the moment, I’ve decided to take a break from the girllovesreading blog. It’s still very important to me which is why I’d rather have a break instead of half committing to it.

I’ll see you all soon!

Review: Resonance (C.L. Davies)

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Resonance by Cheryl Davies recently to review and I’m very glad she got in touch!

While I haven’t been able to dedicate enough time to reading lately, I finished this book in a grand total of two days; something I feel is a real testament to a particularly gripping plot. The initial protagonist is Oscar DeHaven, a seemingly aloof wealthy older man who is unhappy with the way his life turned out, leading him to place his faith in the Forever Foundation. This mysterious organisation is then promptly revealed to promise those with significant wealth a ‘second chance’ at life by placing their soul in the newborn body of another; a somewhat disturbing thought if you think too much into it…!

Once the novel picks up we learn it is actually centered around several independant characters, Jake, Faith and Harry (all being artificially birthed through the Forever Foundation). These characters are all seemingly independent of each other and serve to represent three different life experiences that all result from the same unusual start to life.
Faith is a sickly newborn who is subsequently rescued from termination by Milly who then proceeds to embark on an emotional ride to cure her of the ‘faults’ that arose from an unusual complication in the procedure.
Harry has a regular upbringing and falls in love with Kate; their eyes meet across his hardware store and a later chance meeting after the fact cements them together before following their married life.
Finally there is Jake; the recipient of Oscar’s soul who was adopted by a loving family who were unable to bear children. Resonance follows both his childhood where he learns of the Forever Foundation and uses this to rationalise the dreams he has been having of his past life as well as returning during his rise to becoming a prominent author.

Now all of this seems happy enough. The novel mainly follows these characters through their everyday lives; the journey Milly takes to rescue and help cure Faith, Jake and his turbulent relationships with women and his writing career and Harry and Kate and their insight into married life in this slightly unusual world. And then the nightmares start.
There are subtle references by Davies throughout Resonance that hint to their importance from the very beginning of the book; Jake has vivid nightmares of his past life and Oscar’s aggressive lack of trust towards women, as well as Faith’s recurring nightmares that concern her mother Milly. But any worries we have as a reader are promptly dismissed by the author as nothing more than as a passing comment or an unhappy coincidence between the characters.

As Resonance continues, things escalate in a particularly dramatic fashion. The novel which had previously taken a relaxed ‘scenic’ descriptive route through the plot then hurtles at the speed of a train towards the close, with event after event that makes you realise everything you had previously read has led you to this point. Minor spoiler; I finished the book and shouted “WHAT?!” rather loudly.

Davies has written an extremely enjoyable novel, you don’t realise as a reader that you’re hooked until you’ve read half of the book. Subtle hints by the author throughout leave you realising that you should have seen this end coming while simultaneously confusing you that such an unexpected ending could have occurred.

I personally hope there is a sequel to this (soon!) and I will be one of the first to read it should it appear. I would recommend this to anyone interested in light science fiction.

The book is available to purchase as both ebook and paperback.

Review: Woman of the Dead (Bernhard Aichner)

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Woman of the Dead; a translation of the best selling novel by Bernhard Aichner. The novel has been released today following its wave of success in Austria. It has already been listed as one of The Telegraph’s “Best Crime Fiction Books of 2015” creating a strong air of expectation surrounding the translation.

From the opening we are greeted with our protagonist Blum, an undertaker working in her family’s business. Not content with her (frankly abusive) father, she takes the lives of her parents into her own hands and they suffer an ‘accident’ out at sea. This strong opening chapter already highlights why Aichner is poised to be a new star in crime fiction. The death of her parents serves as an introduction for Mark; a police officer on leave who happens to stumble across the crime scene. The book then skips ahead several years and focuses on the marriage of Mark and Blum, their two children and their seemingly normal life. The quick death of Mark in a motorbike accident leaves Blum stunned and unable to continue with daily life, but is all as it seems?

The layout of the narrative is personally not for me. While the plot is dark and exciting, the dialogue between the characters occasionally feels slightly clunky. There are large sections of pure conversation; a writing technique I am not particularly fond of but that is just personal preference. The plot itself is captivating and thoroughly explored throughout with you constantly wondering if and when Blums actions will be discovered. The revelation that Aichner spent six months working as an undertaker comes as no surprise, the detailing around her line of work is exceptionally precise and contributes to the dark undertones of the novel.

Overall Aichner has written a truly captivating book. This thriller has a fantastic storyline, unique to anything else I have ever read. Despite her murderous tendencies; arguably forced upon her by the situations she finds herself in, Blum is a relatable character that while you desperately want her to find the answers she seeks, will scare you slightly with what she is capable of. This is the darkest book I have read in quite a while, and has made me eager to exploring the genre.

As the opening book of a trilogy I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a thriller (although be warned; this is particularly dark!). There is a rumoured movie adaptation and his next novel House of the Dead will continue the series.

The book is available today (9th April 2015) and can be purchased in all the normal sources.

(Image property of Amazon UK)