Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Book Review: The Dark Heroine: Dinner With A Vampire

“Kidnapped by a vampire, death by a squid. How tragic” 

-          Violet


Come on, with a line like that, who couldn’t love the book?

The novel centres around the character of Violet who is witness to a violent murder in Trafalgar Square, spotted, she is then kidnapped, only to learn that they are in fact vampires. Their leader is none other than a Prince of the realm, Royalty amongst the vampires, known as Kasper and he is far from likeable. Infact, it wasn’t until the latter half of the book that I began to see that there was more to his character than his arrogant and self-indulgent attitude (very vampiric of course). Violet on the other hand is very unsure of herself and of her inner voice (who she is constantly sparring with) yet she is strong and holds her ground, even when faced with the possibility of death and giving up her human existence for the greater good. 

I really did enjoy reading this book, however, I would have liked to have seen more emphasis placed on the supportive characters in the novel. Fabian for example played a key role in the first half of the book, yet after Violet chooses Kasper he more or less disappears. This was disappointing because he was so likeable and after all, Kasper’s best friend, to just drop him seemed rather careless. It also would have been good to have had more background to Violet (the connection she had with Kasper/her father’s role) and about the vampires in general (Kasper’s mum/how they functioned alongside the humans (government) etc) but then again this could all be included in a prequel/future book as I’m sure it would make a book in itself as I can imagine it could get lengthy. In all honesty, all that aside, I read the book in two days and I still find myself thinking about it. 

This was an impulse buy because a) I just bought a new Galaxy Note and b) the cover looked so gorgeous and c) it contained vampires…all in all, a pretty awesome combination don’t you think? Definitely! I tend to buy books I have been recommended or that have high ratings on goodreads and after having already purchased this book, then reading a few reviews I was hesitant to start reading thinking I had just purchased a Twilight inspired YA novel. Boy was I wrong. This novel was nothing like Twilight; I understand that the author is very young, but the concept of the inter-dimensions, the prophecy and the dark heroines was so unique, that I praise the author for her originality. I think, particularly in this genre, it’s so hard to be original, most vampire stories are strictly romantic or strictly traditional, so it’s hard to pull out something a bit different which I think Ms Gibbs did quite well. 

I look forward to reading the sequel due to be released in August as it centres around a rather fascinating character from the inter-dimension’s, can’t wait to see where this series will go, I think it has great potential and I’m totally bummed I missed out on purchasing the author’s extended version, I’m sure there were goodies in there I missed!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Book Review: Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino

“I have seen beyond the bounds of infinity and drawn down daemons from the stars...I have harnessed the shadows that stride from world to world to sow death and madness...”
(“From Beyond”, H.P. Lovecraft) 

Charlotte Markham is haunted by death. As a young child she witnessed a man in black appear at her sick mother’s bedside before she took her last breath, then again whilst her father’s heart gave out and finally when her husband saved her from their burning house. And although she suspects that the man in black is death she is unsure why she is privy to his visits.

 After the death of her husband, Charlotte finds work at Everton House as governess to the two Darrow children; it is on the grounds at Everton that her fellow employee and friend, Nanny Prum, is found murdered. Nanny Prum’s murder sets in motion a series of events which places Charlotte as both Nanny and governess to the children.

After a series of unexplainable events, the children set off on a quest to follow a map based on Paul (the eldest Darrow child) dream which leads them deep into the forest on Everton Estate. It isn’t before too long that Charlotte and the children find themselves enveloped in mist; an invisible threshold separating two worlds, the living and The Ending. It is here at The Ending that they come across the House of Darkling where, the late mistress of Everton, Lily Darrow has patiently been waiting.

The House of Darkling is full of strange and wonderful things, a place where death does not exist and of which, The Ending’s inhabitants crave more than their own immortality. Although the House of Darkling frightens Charlotte, she finds herself drawn to its many wonders including its master, Mr Whatley, who seems to hold the secrets to not only the mysterious death of Nanny Prum but of her past and the man in black.

Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling breathe life back into gothic fantasy, reminiscent of the genius of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Baudelaire, Neil Gaiman and Tim Burton. Boccacino’s prose is simply beautiful and I found myself lost in the conjured nightscape of The Ending and its unusual inhabitants.

For a debut novel, this was brilliant, both in its writing style and original storyline.  This novel was indeed strangely intoxicating and I found myself finishing it within the day. I simply can’t believe I left it sitting on my “to read” bookshelf for so long! I would recommend this novel to anyone who admires the abovementioned likes of Poe, Lovecraft and Burton; you will be enchanted by the gothic horrors of The Ending.    


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

In which I love Parisian cool: Isabel Marant

Isabel Marant Dicker Boots

Being a mother has it's 'ugly' days and although I adore my two handsome little boys, occasionally I feel the need to splash out on some gorgeous 'must have' fashion item and look the part without feeling so mumsy; whether that be a jacket, boots, jeans or even a new lipstick - I like to purchase  staple items that I know I will continue to wear for years to come.

A few years ago I came across the designer Isabel Marant; this was prior to her becoming one of the most wanted designers on every fashionistas wish list, her dicker boots, little mini dresses & structured jackets iconic. I had forgotten about her until suddenly, her dicker boots seemed to be in my face on every magazine

Now I understand WHY these boots are so coveted; they are, without a doubt, THE most comfortable ankle boots I have ever owned, so much so, that I also went out and purchased them in Anthracite, Taupe and Camel. With all the running around I do I basically live in ballet flats or boots (during winter), so buying heeled ankle boots and being comfortable in them is a big deal (believe me); I only own one pair of heels which make do for any and all special occasion moments. The best thing about these boots is that they look great dressed up or down.

Apart from her super comfortable dicker boots, I also recently purchased the Hoani jacket which was on sale and I must admit, it's gorgeous. Each outing I've worn it, I've received endless compliments (aka boost to self confidence after second child), it's so well cut and structured, it's easy to understand why Isabel Marant is such a unique and coveted designer.

And now I ponder, do I need them in leather *wink*

Book Review: Citadel by Kate Mosse

5 STARS*****

“Come forth the spirits of the air. Come forth the armies of the air.
Every death remembered.
Those who died so others might live, those who gave their lives and now live.
Then, when the battle is over, they shall sleep once more”
-          Citadel, Kate Mosse 
Citadel is Kate Mosses’ third instalment in her widely acclaimed Languedoc trilogy and is set amongst the picturesque Southern France, in Carcassonne. The novel is split into two distinct stories; the first is set around the monk Arinius. Arinius is on a quest to ensure the safety of a Codex, condemned by the church as heretical. Little does he know, the Codex holds within its verses, the ability to raise a ghost army.
The second is set around the spirited Sandrine Vidal, a young women living in Carcassonne during World War II. After her father’s death she is raised by her sister and housekeeper and is all but ignorant to the world changing around her. Sandrine’s world abruptly changes when she almost drowns attempting to save another man drowning in the Aude, from then on, she discovers her sister is secretly part of a network helping the resistance and together, with other like minded women, form the Citadel network.
The characters in Citadel mimic those of their predecessors, as though their lives have already been mapped before them; there are glimpses of Alais in Sandrine and of Guilhem in Raoul. Their relationship is fuelled by their passion to preserve Carcassonne and its people, to exploit the truths that the Nazi’s try, unsuccessfully so, to keep hidden. Just ordinary people refusing to give in to the capture and torture of the place they lived and its people.
Like Labyrinth and Sepulchre, Kate Mosse doesn’t fail to disappoint, her characters are well developed and her story flows effortlessly – you truly lose yourself in its labyrinth of pages. It is a remarkable novel and by the end, like I, you will have your heart in your mouth and although bittersweet, it bought the story of the Languedoc to a beautiful finale.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Book Review: The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

"I am a monarch of God’s creation, and you reptiles of the earth dare not oppose me."
-          Napoleon addressing member’s of the Catholic clergy 

The Second Empress is Michelle Moran’s fifth novel and surrounds the little known story of the unlikely marriage between Napoleon Bonaparte to his second wife, Princess Marie Louise of Austria, great-niece to the unfortunate Marie Antoinette of France.

The story presents an insightful tale of the later reign of Napoleon Bonaparte shortly after the discovery of his wife’s infertility and unfaithfulness. With both his desire to produce a male heir and his even greater desire to extend the French Empire, he chooses the unlikely bride, Princess Marie-Louise of Austria, a tactic not only to ensure the submission of the Austrian Empire but personally, to glorify himself marrying the great-niece of Marie Antoinette, a real princess.

Princess Marie-Louise fearful that if she turned down Napoleon’s hand her father would not only lose his crown but would destroy the Treaty of Schonbrunn, she reluctantly accepts. Thrown into a world she is unfamiliar with, she finds some comfort in an unlikely friend, the late Empress of France’s daughter, Hortense.

The story alternates between three central characters; Princess Marie-Louise, Napoleon’s sister Pauline Bonaparte and Paul Moreau, Pauline’s Chamberlain. This helps in developing each character and gives us a further understanding of the egotistical, narcissistic family the Bonaparte’s really were, stopping at nothing to get what they wanted for their own personal gratification regardless of whether they destroyed lives in the process.

Most novels surrounding Napoleon’s reign are about his political and public genius who re-established a nation after the French Revolution left France in a state of political and social unrest. Through sheer charisma, Napoleon influenced a nation marching hundreds of thousands to their deaths; a flaw which ultimately led to his downfall, yet after all this, Napoleon is forged throughout history as a legend.

The Second Empress does nothing to glorify the achievements of Napoleon, only briefly mentioning battles at Leipzig, Russia and Waterloo although this wasn’t the author’s intention in any case. The Second Empress is a novel about the strength and determination of Marie-Louise, Second Empress of France and exposes the real character of Napoleon and his siblings, who were quite extreme in many of their aspirations. Napoleon was barbaric and militant minded, his idiosyncrasies, sexual appetite and little care for the female person, believing that “Women are nothing but machines for producing children” all adding to Moran’s realistic portrayal of Napoleon. Moran’s historical notes point out that in her attempt to recreate Napoleon’s last six years of his reign, many personal court letters were relied upon, small snippets of which, are included in the novel providing a raw truthfulness to the story and the characters.

After having fallen in love with Moran’s last novel Madame Tussaud, I had great expectations reading this novel. And although it wasn’t quite as enthralling as its predecessor, I very much enjoyed reading a novel which surrounded the little known protagonist, Princess Marie-Louise of Austria who, in many ways treaded in her great-aunt’s footsteps. It was an easy novel to read and the story flowed effortlessly, combined with historical snippets from personal letters it made an excellent period read and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a good historical fiction, Moran never fails to disappoint.  

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

“It is all very well planning what you will do in six months, what you will do in a year, but it’s no good at all if you don’t have a plan for tomorrow.”

- Cromwell

Wolf Hall is the brilliantly written novel by Hilary Mantel and has sat in my “to read” pile for a long period, waiting. Just the size of the book daunted me, so I continued to pick up shorter novels before finally committing to the long haul read. Funnily enough, the book is so well written I found myself reading through the chapters effortlessly and before I knew it, I had finished.

Wolf Hall is set during the reign of King Henry VIII but is really a story about the rise of Thomas Cromwell, from blacksmith’s son to the Kings right hand man. Mantel introduces us to the many layers that make up “Thomas Cromwell”; the devoted family man who wants nothing more than to give his family everything he didn’t have, as well as having a deep affection for animals, particularly small dogs who he continues to name “Bella” after a small dog he had as a child and going out of his way for those less fortunate in society. Typically, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More tend to be painted as power hungry zealots in most Tudor fictions and you can’t help but dislike them. Even Mantel managed to capture this trait in More and I found it impossible to like the man at all, my skin crawled each time More popped into the scene.  Cromwell on the other hand is far more personable, Mantel including characters from his blood kin and adopted family, turning the once villain into the ingenious lawyer he really was with an honest and surprisingly hard upbringing.

As with most Tudor fictions; this novel also incorporates the usual suspects of the time including the Cardinal Wolsey, Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary, Katherine of Aragon and her daughter the Princess Mary,  Jane Seymour, Thomas Wyatt, the Lords Norfolk and Suffolk and the author was true to their characters, even down to the demure Jane Seymour. Like most Tudor enthusiasts, we’re familiar with the King Henry VIII/Anne Boleyn relationship which bought about the downfall of Holy See in England and revolutionised religious belief at the time. It was refreshing that the focus of the story stemmed away from the “familiar” King Henry VIII/Anne Boleyn stories to something “unfamiliar”, the story of Thomas Cromwell who was without a doubt, crucial in shaping England and revolutionizing its laws.

Hands down, Wolf Hall is without a doubt, my favourite Tudor fiction to date and I could almost kick myself for having chosen all those smaller books to read before finally picking it up. The book flowed effortlessly and the description of Tudor England was expertly told as though Mantel had been there, I could easily believe that this was the real story of Thomas Cromwell. For anyone who has a passion for the period, I couldn’t recommend this novel enough, it’s absolutely brilliant!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Book Review: Virgin and the Crab by Robert Parry

‘And what of we two, master Dee?
Our nativities are oddly matched, are they not: the Virgin and the Crab.’
-          Excerpt from Virgin and the Crab

Virgin and the Crab transports the reader back in time beginning with the death of King Henry VIII through to the accession of his daughter, Elizabeth I. Though a familiar tale, this novel revolves around the little known tale, that of the relationship between Elizabeth Tudor and her tutor, John Dee.
Robert has a remarkable way of being able to transport the reader back in time, his story envelopes the reader, the lines between reality and fantasy seemingly blur; allowing the reader to truly envisage the tumultuous times of Tudor England.
Our main character, John Dee is simply an amazing man; mathematician, astrologer, navigator, scientist, alchemist, magician, master of disguise and confidant to Elizabeth I, this is surely a man you would wish to have by your side. A member of the mysterious brotherhood, the Rose Lodge he devotes his life’s essence into guiding England towards enlightenment and realisation that the Lady Elizabeth is vital in order to bring about England’s Golden Age.
A tale full of intrigue and magic, it draws the reader into its powerful web introducing Tudor England and all its accompaniments; of the plotting courtiers out for their own self gain, of the betrayals and also the loyalty, love and friendship sealed by years of shared ups and downs and of the importance of these relationships, even in the darkest of times, Elizabeth’s guiding light.
This novel manages to portray the rise of Elizabeth I without daunting the reader, Robert managing to retell the story in a mere 480 pages. Coupled with the usual suspects including; William Cecil, Robert Dudley, Jane Grey, Thomas Wyatt, Queen Mary, Philip of Spain along with all the subsidiary characters associated with them, this novel is undoubtedly a must read for anyone who loves Tudor historical fiction and whom wishes to experience the masterful Robert at his theatrical best.
This novel brings to life the relationship shared between Elizabeth Tudor and her friend and tutor John Dee. Robert breathes life into an untold story; he manages to blur fact and fiction resulting in a truly believable portrayal of their relationship, leaving the reader with much to ponder long after the last page has been turned.