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Goth Girl 3What’s it all about?

Ada Goth has been invited to Brighton by one of her father’s friends to attend World Frock Day. She has twenty guineas to spend on a suitable dress. Will she go for a creation by Jean-Paul Goatee or Lady Vivienne Dashwood? But before she can decide, disaster strikes, her money is missing and she needs to think of something else….

Why did I want to read it?

It’s a special World Book day book. It’s written and illustrated by one of my favourites, Chris Riddell. I have a huge soft spot for Ada having read Ghost of  Mouse and A Fete Worse than Death at the end of last year. They make me giggle with their silly jokes and puns.

What did I think of it?

My only complaint is that Goth Girl and the Pirate Queen is Far Too Short, but still lovely addition to the Goth canon. As well as poking lots of fun at fashion – not just the designers but the esteemed personage of Empress Anna Winter, editor of Brogue (the journal of sensible footwear) – it’s a sweet little story where everything comes right in the end, including the Pirate Queen herself (Tall Nell) having great success with her new piece of confectionery, Brighton Rock. It’s all just great fun and I look forward to the next volume (Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright) with anticipation.

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IMG_0259On Saturday the Book God and I made a second attempt to visit the British Library to view their Gothic exhibition (we failed earlier in the month as I had been unwell). I was very keen to see this because (of course) I love all things Gothic but also because we’d seen a number of the supporting TV programmes on BBC4 and our interest had been piqued. (I love that word and should definitely try to use it more!)

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination covers the period from the 1790s (lots of Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill which, despite it only being about five stops along the railway from us I have yet to visit) to the present day through a wonderful range of books, manuscripts, illustrations and other artefacts. There are also some fabulous film clips playing in the background – Boris as Frankenstein’s Creature, Lady Dedlock from Bleak House, The Wicker Man, The Innocents – and interviews with modern figures such as Neil Gaiman (talking about Coraline).

Much to look at and enjoy. Wonderful selection of related material in the exhibition shop; I can’t decide whether I am appalled or pleased that I already had so many of the books on sale on my shelves at home, but I did nobble the exhibition catalogue and some lovely postcards.

goth-girl-2-978023075982401What’s it all about?

With Goth Girl and the Fete Worse Than Death we are back at Ghastly-Gorm Hall with Ada and her father the cycling poet Lord Goth and the wonderful cast of characters that surround them. This time everyone is getting ready for the annual Full-Moon Fete and:

the Great Ghastly-Gorm Bake Off. Celebrity Cooks are arriving at the hall for the big event, and as usual Maltravers is acting suspiciously. On top of all this, Ada’s elusive lady’s maid Marylebone has a surprising secret and everyone seems to have forgotten Ada’s birthday.

Into all of this comes her father’s dashing friend Lord Whimsy who is more than he at first appears.

Why did I want to read it?

I absolutely adored the previous book in the series (you can read my review of it here) and this is just as good. Again, it’s a beautiful physical object full of wonderful illustrations and tucked into the back another little miniature book, Marylebone’s biography. Just lovely to read.

What did I think of it?

It has all of the strengths of Ghost of a Mouse and builds on that earlier story with the same cast of characters bolstered by some strong new additions. Maltravers is still up to no good, Ada and her father’s relationship has developed and she is learning a great deal from her vampire nanny Lucy Borgia. The delight is as always seeing the real-life models for the chefs in particular (Nigellina Sugarspoon and Heston Harboil, anyone?) and the influences on the plot (Paddington obviously but also a mix of Scarlet Pimpernel and a Regency James Bond). But of course it’s all about he illustrations and the wonderful silliness.

The footnotes this time are webbed and written by a well-travelled Muscovy duck. My favourite relates to Abba the Swedish minotaur, who is naturally depressed and who:

likes pickled herring, knitted jumpers and long walks in the rain. He composes annoyingly catchy songs on his Scandinavian lyre.

Wonderful, and a very fun and unplanned end to my RIP IX reading experience.

IMG_0170What’s it all about?

Murder is the sequel to Mayhem and picks up a few years after the events of that book, focussing very much on the Dr Thomas Bond (trying to avoid spoilers here) who is trying to deal with the aftermath of those events, hoping to finally win the love of Juliana, now widowed and the mother of a young son, and the arrival of a handsome American, Edward Kane, a friend of Juliana’s late husband who in trying to put his mind at rest on the past events may stir up some of Bond’s demons. In more ways than one.

Why did I want to read it?

I really enjoy Sarah Pinborough’s work and thought this was going to be the second in a series rather than a direct sequel. Ordered it as soon as it was announced.

What did I think of it?

As I said above I was not expecting this to be a sequel; in my head I had convinced myself that this was going to be a series of nasty (in a good way) serial killer novels with Bond as the hero hunting down the bad guys. All of this based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever, all based on assumptions rather than any hard evidence. even starting to read the book I thought that we were running through the events of Mayhem as the background to something entirely different. However, it quickly became clear that I was in for something entirely different as the events of Mayhem come back to haunt Bond in rather horrible ways with a kind of horrible inevitability in the events that were unfolding. Or so it seemed.

This was an interesting reading experience for me, one in a line of dark books with very human dilemmas underscored by creepy supernatural elements and a fair dose of nastiness. But because it was so dark I actually had to set it aside on a couple of occasions because it was almost overwhelming. This is a credit to Sarah’s writing; the triggers for me were not the obvious nastiness but the realistic portrayal of the impact of unrequited love (I have some experience in this area – don’t ask, best left alone – and just found it painful to read) and the descent of a man into madness.

But I’m glad I persevered because there are a couple of events in particular which push the story into really dark territory and I was desperate to know how this was all going to work out. I had a tiny wee suspicion of what might happen at the end which was mostly right though not delivered in quite the way I expected.

This was my eighth read for RIP IX and I’m definitely going to continue exploring this author’s work.

91ruyHdsv4L._SL1500_What’s it all about?

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse (or GG&GM as it will henceforth be known) tells the story of Ada, who as the blurb says

lives in Ghastly-Gorm Hall with her father, Lord Goth, lots of servants and at least half a dozen ghosts, but she hasn’t got any friends to explore her enormous creepy house with.

But then she meets a ghost mouse called Ishmael and in trying to discover the circumstances around his untimely death (even for a mouse) she discovers that there is a nefarious plot taking place right under their noses.

Why did I want to read it?

I love Chris Riddell’s work. The physical book (which I’m lucky to have, bought it as a birthday present for myself) is a thing of beauty in its own right, not just because of the copious illustrations but the binding and endpapers and tiny book “Memoirs of a Mouse” tucked inside the back cover. And as a children’s book, even one with a Gothic sensibility, it was going to be way way lighter than most of my other October reads.

What did I think of it?

GG&GM was just totally delightful. I picked it up for some light relief then found I couldn’t put it down because it was just such fun. Ada is a wonderful creation, a girl who looks so much like her mother (Parthenope, a tightrope walker from Thessalonika who had died one night while practising on the roof) that her father needs her to wear huge clumpy boots so he can hear her coming and avoid her (only through his overwhelming sadness, which has led him to the view that children should be heard but not seen).

There’s a wonderful cast of supporting characters – vampire governess, indoor gamekeeper, the Cabbage children (Emily, a talented artist, and William, who has chameleon syndrome and can blend in with his surroundings), various servants and of course Ishmael who is sad and sweet and gets the whole plot rolling. Everyone has wonderful pseudo-Dickensian names and a range of interesting skills.

It’s really good story, and is also very funny in a silly way with lots of puns and nonsense names for things and invented creatures. There are footnotes with useful information, provided by

the severed foot of a famous writer who lost the aforementioned foot at the Battle of Baden-Baden-Wurttemberg-Baden

My favourite footnote (and they’re all very amusing) gives some context to Hamish, the Shetland Centaur:

Shetland centaurs are just one of a number of mythical creatures living in Scotland. The Glasgow cyclops and the Edinburgh gorgon are well known, but the Arbroath smokie, a fire-breathing mermaid, is more elusive.

That made me giggle a great deal, and if it made you smile too then you will love this book as much as I did. A real treat, and I already have my hands on the sequel.

This was my seventh read for RIP IX (and possibly my favourite so far but shh, don’t tell the others)

20140728-175313-64393728What’s it all about?

Savage Magic is the third in Lloyd Shepherd’s series about London’s River Police which started with The English Monster (which I reviewed here) and continued with The Poisoned Island which was my first read of this year, and to (for?) which this novel is something of a sequel, as the starting point for several of the characters is a direct result of the events of the previous novel. So although you don’t need to have read that first, it will all make a bit more sense if you have.

Unofficial plug over.

But what of the plot? Well….

It’s 1814 and London’s Covent Garden is at the centre of a dark trade, enticing rich and poor alike with a cocktail of gin and beer and sex. In the surrounding parishes a group of aristocratic young men are found murdered, all of them wearing the mask of a satyr, all of them behind locked doors with no sign of entry.

And if that wasn’t enough, there are also accusations of witchcraft in the countryside outside London which need to be looked into ….

Why did I want to read it?

I am a great fan of this series and had pre-ordered this as soon as I knew it was coming out. It’s a period of London history that I don’t know very much about and I have become fond of the main characters, particularly Abigail Horton, the wife of our main protagonist, so picking this up was a no-brainer for me.

What did I think of it?

As I’ve already said I enjoy this series very much but I think this is the best so far, which is interesting given that at least one of the main characters from previous volumes (Harrington) is offstage through illness for most of the narrative and the others (Abigail, her husband Charles and Aaron Graham) are apart for most of the novel for very good and important-to-the-plot reasons. In fact I became very anxious indeed about Abigail’s situation…..

The other interesting thing is that very little of the story has anything to do with the Thames at all, though convict transport to Australia and return to England do feature. What we do have is a thoroughly absorbing story which touches on the treatment of the insane (hint – it isn’t good, especially for female patients), the sex trade and in particular the debauchery of the wealthy (which seems in this case to have very few if any limits) and witchcraft and superstition, alive and well in rural parts even post-Enlightenment. I do enjoy a good-locked room mystery, and I also like to see how the various plot strands come together as they inevitably do. Very ingeniously done in this case, with a whiff of the not entirely natural which has been a theme of the series.

It’s also great fun to read about an area that I know pretty well given that when I’m working in London I’m based on Kingsway, just round the corner from Graham’s home in Great Queen Street and a stone’s throw away from Covent Garden.

The reading experience was an unusual one for me in that I started the novel some time ago and then a combination of increased workload before holiday (never a good time to read anything that requires attention in my experience) and the previously mentioned anxiety about what the author was going to put Abigail through meant that it languished on the TBR pile until I found myself in a hotel in the south-west of Scotland where I could give it the attention it deserved, and I read the last third in a single sitting late into the night. And very satisfying it was too.

If you haven’t given this series a try then you really should, whether it’s for the historical setting, the supernatural stuff or a good novel of detection. I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes next.

This was my third read for RIP IX. It is also the book that got me to my target of 52 books in 52 weeks, so everything I read after that is a bonus!

Scan 28What’s it all about?

The Dead Men Stood Together is a re-telling of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, from the perspective of a young boy serving on the voyage, whose uncle is instrumental in the terrible events that befall the ship and its crew.

Why did I want to read it?

I love Chris Priestley. I think I now have all of his published novels and short story collections, whether in hard copy or as e-books. He has a wonderful way with the ghostly and the ghoulish and the downright creepy. And of course who can resist the Ancient Mariner, an iconic tale.

What did I think of it?

Thoroughly enjoyed it. As well as the traditional elements of the tale it gives a both a back story to the events and a resolution which is really moving (well I thought so anyway). The prose is simple but the story is totally compelling even though it is entirely familiar (to anyone who has read the poem of course; and if you haven’t then go and do so now. I’ll wait). dewey-300x300

It is dark and atmospheric and another good book to read in the dark in the middle of the night. Recommended.

Though someone does really need to start thinking about the poor old albatross.

This was my sixth Readathon book.

 

Scan 27What’s it all about?

The House of Dead Maids is set in an unidentified part of (presumably) the British Isles and tells the story of Tabby, who is taken from the orphanage where she lives and brought to Seldom House, a decaying mansion in the middle of nowhere, as she understands it to take up a position as a maid. When she is joined by a young boy it becomes clear that there is something rather more sinister going and, reinforced by the number of ghostly maids and masters that haunt the house, she fears for her life.

Why did I want to read it?

As happens far too often these days I have no recollection of where I found out about this book, but it went onto my Christmas wish list and duly turned up under the tree. I liked the premise and found the cover compelling. Of course I entirely missed the obvious (i.e. it’s mentioned on the front cover) reference to the sort being “a chilling prelude to Wuthering Heights”, duh!

What did I think of it?

This is definitely a good book to read in the middle of the night if you want to be creeped out. It’s dark and Gothic and has a strong atmosphere, and I felt worried for the fate of Tabitha and the little unnamed boy and the rather unpleasant adults that surround them. Well, at least one adult was kind to them  but she was of the determined not to interfere variety of servant. A short book, very enjoyable and the author’s epilogue gives some good links to the real Bronte world.dewey-300x300

This was my fifth Readathon book.

 

Scan 1I can’t believe that we are nearly at the middle of February and, although I have been reading away quite happily, I haven’t got around to posting any thoughts on what I have read. So before I launch into the first book of 2014, apologies in advance for a bit of a blog-post-fest over the next couple of days as I try to catch up.

So to The Poisoned Island, the second novel by Lloyd Shepherd in his (hopefully going to continue for ages) series about the Thames river police in the early years of the 19th century.

What’s the book about?

It is 1812, and many years after Captain Cook’s first voyage the British are still obsessed with Tahiti, and in particular the astonishing botanical specimens that could be found there, many of which a recently arrived ship, Solander, has brought back to populate the botanic gardens at Kew. Harriott and Horton are asked to take an interest in the security of the ship and its valuable cargo, but of course there is more to the story than that, as several of the crew members wind up dead in brutal circumstances with their personal belongings ransacked. What was the killer looking for?

Why did I want to read it?

If it’s possible to mildly stalk someone then that’s what I do in relation to Lloyd Shepherd having read and thoroughly enjoyed The English Monster as my first read of 2012 (which I reviewed here); he’s worth following on his blog and on Twitter and I’m a bit of a fan (but in a healthy middle-aged woman way, I hope). I feel really bad because I bought this as soon as it came out in hardback and then it sat in the stacks while I was distracted by bright and shiny things. Also I used to live and work near Kew and it was very interesting to read about the early years of the gardens that I used to walk past every day on my way to the office.

What did I think of it?

Very, very enjoyable and a worthy sequel. I particularly liked learning more about Harrington and Horton and the way in which the relationships of all of the main characters develop was convincing and really drew me in; I desperately wanted to Horton to work out what was behind the dreadful deaths of the seaman from the Solander. I became very attached to Horton’s wife Abigail who has a significant role to play and I hope we see a lot more of her in future books. The historical background, especially how awful the Prince Regent was, covered a lot of things that were either new to me or about which I had only a superficial knowledge and like all the best books it pushes you towards reading more widely (don’t miss the author’s note at the end). I will admit to having twigged just before the reveal who the murderer was but that doesn’t matter at all.

Conclusion

Worth saying that I read the last 175 pages in one sitting on a dark Sunday afternoon which should tell you something about how immersed I became. Excellent.

Scan 46What’s it all about?

Vida Winter, famous author, is dying and summons the relatively unknown Margaret Lea to write her biography. It’s clear that there is a story she wants to get off her chest before she passes away. Could this be the basis of the mysterious unwritten thirteenth tale?

Why did I want to read it?

A dramatisation of the novel starring Olivia Colman and Vanessa Redgrave will be on the BBC over the Christmas holidays (probably already broadcast by the time this is published now I come to think of it) and I wanted to read the book before I watched it. Plus I’ve had the book since it came out and am embarrassed that I haven’t read it before now, making me the last person in the universe to do so. Though that may be a slight exaggeration.

What did I think of it?

The Thirteenth Tale really lived up to what others have said about it and I really enjoyed reading it. It has everything you would expect from a good Gothic; dying person haunted by a secret, main character with issues of her own, potentially inappropriate family relationships, abandoned babies, twins, devoted servants, death and destruction, and will we get to the truth before the end? Hint – of course we will.

Conclusion

Very satisfying indeed. Looking forward to see how they can possibly turn what is a complicated structure with flashbacks and revelations and heaps of atmosphere into a coherent film. I shall report back! but if it turns out that you are the only other person besides me who hadn’t read this then do please have a go; very well written, believable characters, suitable ending (IMHO anyway).

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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