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Books for Autumntime

I have always been a seasonal reader to an extent – particularly, it must be said, when it comes to Christmas-themed books – but I feel that my reading choices have been aligned more with the seasons in the last tumultuous year. Connecting my reading with the natural world around me has given me a sense of calm whilst the world has reached such a point of crisis, and picking up a seasonally themed book has become rather a soothing task. With this in mind, I wanted to collect together eight books which I feel will be perfect picks for autumn, and which I hope you will want to include in your own reading journeys.

These books are best enjoyed with a steaming cup of tea, a view of the changing foliage, and your most comfortable item of knitwear

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

‘Orphaned as a child, Jane has felt an outcast her whole young life. Her courage is tested once again when she arrives at Thornfield Hall, where she has been hired by the brooding, proud Edward Rochester to care for his ward Adèle. Jane finds herself drawn to his troubled yet kind spirit. She falls in love. Hard. But there is a terrifying secret inside the gloomy, forbidding Thornfield Hall. Is Rochester hiding from Jane? Will Jane be left heartbroken and exiled once again?’

2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

‘Working as a paid companion to a bitter elderly lady, the timid heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Life is bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she falls in love with Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower whose proposal takes her by surprise. Whisked from Monte Carlo to Manderley, Maxim’s isolated Cornish estate, the friendless young bride begins to realise she barely knows her husband at all. And in every corner of every room is the phantom of his beautiful first wife, Rebecca. Rebecca is the haunting story of a woman consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.’

3. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

‘Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts. There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard. But it is in the land of the living that real danger lurks for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod’s family.’

4. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

‘To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history….Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor,” and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of, a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history. The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula. Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself–to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive. What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends? The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe. In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler’s dark reign and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages.’

5. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.


Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit met with instant critical acclaim when it was first published in 1937. Now recognized as a timeless classic, this introduction to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, Gollum, and the spectacular world of Middle-earth recounts of the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring, and the cruel dragon Smaug the Magnificent.’

6. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

‘In this sensational, hard-hitting and passionate tale of marital cruelty, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall sees a mysterious tenant, Helen Graham, unmasked not as a ‘wicked woman’ as the local gossips would have it, but as the estranged wife of a brutal alcoholic bully, desperate to protect her son. Using her own experiences with her brother Branwell to depict the cruelty and debauchery from which Helen flees, Anne Bronte wrote her masterpiece to reflect the fragile position of women in society and her belief in universal redemption, but scandalized readers of the time.’

7. Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

‘The young orphan Silver is taken in by the ancient lighthousekeeper Mr. Pew, who reveals to her a world of myth and mystery through the art of storytelling. A magical, lyrical tale from one of Britain’s best-loved literary novelists. of the Cape Wrath lighthouse. Pew tells Silver ancient tales of longing and rootlessness, of the slippages that occur throughout every life. One life, Babel Dark’s, a nineteenth century clergyman, opens like a map that Silver must follow, and the intertwining of myth and reality, of storytelling and experience, lead her through her own particular darkness. Stevenson and of the Jekyll and Hyde in all of us, Lighthousekeeping is a way into the most secret recesses of our own hearts and minds. Jeanette Winterson is one of the most extraordinary and original writers of her generation, and this shows her at her lyrical best.’

8. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

‘Stevenson’s famous exploration of humanity’s basest capacity for evil, “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” has become synonymous with the idea of a split personality. More than a morality tale, this dark psychological fantasy is also a product of its time, drawing on contemporary theories of class, evolution, criminality, and secret lives.’

Please stay tuned for the final subsequent winter recommendation post, which will be published at the beginning of the new season. Also, let me know if you have any seasonal reads to recommend!

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Books Set in Florida

I’m holidaying in and off Florida later this year, and when turning my mind to literature which I’d read with a Floridian setting, I could come up with very little.  I thought, therefore, that I would make a list of ten books of interest to me, and hopefully then motivate myself to read a large chunk of them before and during my holiday.  I can’t promise that I’ll get to all of these, but I’m going to try!

1. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell 8584686
The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline–think Buddenbrooks set in the Florida Everglades–and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, is swiftly being encroached upon by a sophisticated competitor known as the “World of Darkness.”  Ava, a resourceful but terrified twelve-year-old, must manage seventy gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Her mother, Swamplandia!’s legendary headliner, has just died; her sister is having an affair with a ghost called the Dredgeman; her brother has secretly defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their sinking family afloat; and her father, Chief Bigtree, is AWOL. To save her family, Ava must journey on her own to a perilous part of the swamp called the “Underworld,” a harrowing odyssey from which she emerges a true heroine.

 

2. Tangerine by Edward Bloor
89755Paul Fisher sees the world from behind glasses so thick he looks like a bug-eyed alien. But he’s not so blind that he can’t see there are some very unusual things about his family’s new home in Tangerine County, Florida. Where else does a sinkhole swallow the local school, fire burn underground for years, and lightning strike at the same time every day?The chaos is compounded by constant harassment from his football–star brother, and adjusting to life in Tangerine isn’t easy for Paul—until he joins the soccer team at his middle school. With the help of his new teammates, Paul begins to discover what lies beneath the surface of his strange new hometown. And he also gains the courage to face up to some secrets his family has been keeping from him for far too long. In Tangerine, it seems, anything is possible.;

 

3. The Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
When Fat Charlie’s dad named something, it stuck. Like calling Fat Charlie “Fat Charlie.” 373951Even now, twenty years later, Charlie Nancy can’t shake that name, one of the many embarrassing “gifts” his father bestowed — before he dropped dead on a karaoke stage and ruined Fat Charlie’s life.  Mr. Nancy left Fat Charlie things. Things like the tall, good-looking stranger who appears on Charlie’s doorstep, who appears to be the brother he never knew. A brother as different from Charlie as night is from day, a brother who’s going to show Charlie how to lighten up and have a little fun … just like Dear Old Dad. And all of a sudden, life starts getting very interesting for Fat Charlie.  Because, you see, Charlie’s dad wasn’t just any dad. He was Anansi, a trickster god, the spider-god. Anansi is the spirit of rebellion, able to overturn the social order, create wealth out of thin air, and baffle the devil. Some said he could cheat even Death himself.’

 

4. Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman
40806Turtle Moon transports the listener to Verity, Florida, a place where anything can happen during the month of May, when migrating sea turtles come to town, mistaking the glow of the streetlights for the moon.  A young single mother is murdered in her apartment and her baby is gone. Keith, a 12-year-old boy in the same apartment building—the self-styled “meanest boy” in town—also disappears. In pursuit of the baby, the boy and the killer, are Keith’s divorced mother and a cop who himself was once considered the meanest boy in town. Their search leads them down the humid byways of a Florida populated almost exclusively by people from somewhere else; emotional refugees seeking sanctuary along the swampy coast.

 

5. To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway 913744
To Have and Have Not is the dramatic story of Harry Morgan, an honest man who is forced into running contraband between Cuba and Key West as a means of keeping his crumbling family financially afloat. His adventures lead him into the world of the wealthy and dissipated yachtsmen who throng the region, and involve him in a strange and unlikely love affair.  Harshly realistic, yet with one of the most subtle and moving relationships in the Hemingway oeuvre, To Have and Have Not is literary high adventure at its finest.

 

85911076. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.  It can.  She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.  There is.  She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love.
She’s wrong.

 

7. The Everglades: A River of Grass by Marjory Stoneman Douglas 2083005
Before 1947, when Marjory Stoneman Douglas named the Everglades a “river of grass,” most people considered the area worthless. She brought the world’s attention to the need to preserve the Everglades. In the Afterword, Michael Grunwald tells us what has happened to them since then. Grunwald points out that in 1947 the government was in the midst of establishing the Everglades National Park and turning loose the Army Corps of Engineers to control floods–both of which seemed like saviors for the Glades. But neither turned out to be the answer. Working from the research he did for his book, The Swamp, Grunwald offers an account of what went wrong and the many attempts to fix it, beginning with Save Our Everglades, which Douglas declared was “not nearly enough.” Grunwald then lays out the intricacies (and inanities) of the more recent and ongoing CERP, the hugely expensive Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

 

8. The Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia
376004Reina and Constancia Agüero are Cuban sisters who have been estranged for thirty years. Reina–tall, darkly beautiful, and magnetically sexual–still lives in her homeland. Once a devoted daughter of la revolución, she now basks in the glow of her many admiring suitors, believing only in what she can grasp with her five senses. The pale and very petite Constancia lives in the United States, a beauty expert who sees miracles and portents wherever she looks. After she and her husband retire to Miami, she becomes haunted by the memory of her parents and the unexplained death of her beloved mother so long ago.  Told in the stirring voices of their parents, their daughters, and themselves, The Agüero Sisters tells a mesmerizing story about the power of myth to mask, transform, and finally, reveal the truth–as two women move toward an uncertain, long awaited reunion.

 

9. Under a Dark Summer Sky by Vanessa Lafaye 23615823
Huron Key is already weighed down with secrets when a random act of violence and a rush to judgment viscerally tear the town apart. As the little island burns under the sun and the weight of past decisions, a devastating storm based on the third-strongest Atlantic Hurricane on record approaches, matching the anger of men with the full fury of the skies. Beautifully written and seductive, Under a Dark Summer Sky is at once a glorious love story, a fascinating slice of social history, and a mesmerizing account of what it’s like to be in the eye of a hurricane.

 

10. 90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis
13722320When Julian’s parents make the heartbreaking decision to send him and his two brothers away from Cuba to Miami via the Pedro Pan operation, the boys are thrust into a new world where bullies run rampant and it’s not always clear how best to protect themselves

 

Are there any other books which you feel should be on my list?  Which are your favourite tomes set in and around Florida?

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The ‘(Literary) People I Would Like to Meet’ Tag

It’s time to make a post after such a long time being absent from the blog. I really thank my lovely bookish friend Eleni at Over The Place for creating this tag and tagging me to do it, too 🙂 So, without further ado, here are some of the (literary) people I would like to meet:

1. Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer

Two of my favourite people in the world. I love Neil Gaiman’s stories and immense talent and Amanda is such a sweet person and a musician that can truly articulate your deepest feelings and thoughts. They are both such fascinating individuals that it’s only natural for them to occupy a high place in my list of people I’d like to meet.

2. Margaret Atwood

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Now, I have technically seen Margaret Atwood up close when I attended a lecture she gave as a guest in the University of Athens in Greece (I had made a post about it which you can find here if you’re interested), but I didn’t have the opportunity to actually talk to her. Having both studied her work at Uni and read it out of personal interest, I can very positively say that she’s one of my favourite contemporary writers. Her writing is witty, as sharp as it should be and definitely engaging. She may look like one’s grandma, but she’s so much more than that.

3. David Crystal

David Crystal is one of my favourite linguists. I had read his book A Little Book of Language when I first entered uni and had started picking an interest on linguistics and issues surrounding language. The way he writes about language oozes with his passion for it, and therefore, he successfully manages to transfer some of this passion to his readers. He had actually come to Greece for a lecture, but I found out about it too late and couldn’t attend. He’s a person I really admire and I’d love to have the opportunity to meet him some time.

4. Enid Blyton

She’s my most cherished childhood author. I devoured her books as soon as I got my hands on them and I always craved for more. She kicked off my childish imagination like no other author had done before and her books were the beginning of my fascination with mystery novels. I know that meeting her now is impossible, but she will always have a special place in my heart.

5. Ogawa Yoko

Everyone who knows me even a little bit is well aware of my adoration for Japanese literature. Ogawa Yoko is one of the most interesting Japanese writers I have encountered so far. I haven’t read all of her books yet, but I admire how versatile she can be.

6. Kirsty Logan

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I usually have no opinion on authors I haven’t read myself, but after watching an interview of Kirsty Logan’s by the wonderful Choncey and after reading tons of loving comments and reviews about her latest book, The Gracekeepers, I’m definitely intrigued by her personality and creative spirit. She seems such a lovely lady and I would definitely love to sit with her for a cup of tea and talk about books and magic worlds.

There were many other people I considered adding to this list, and many others I haven’t really thought of yet. I tried to limit myself to currently living people for quite obvious reasons, but I couldn’t prevent myself from adding Enid Blyton – I hope you understand.

I now tag dublinbookworm, Cathy @ 746books, Aman and whoever else wants to do it of course! You can also leave a comment and tell me about the people you would like to meet there 🙂 I’d love to see your responses!

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‘The Sleeper and The Spindle’ by Neil Gaiman ****

Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and The Spindle is illustrated by Chris Riddell; here, the two have collaborated upon rekindling ‘their bestselling partnership for a beautiful and unique fairy tale that puts a daring queen at the very heart of the adventure’.  The blurb states that in ‘twisting together the familiar in the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents’.

The day before her wedding, a young queen ‘sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment’ which is fast engulfing the whole of the kingdom. Gaiman sets the scene immediately: ‘It was the closest kingdom to the queen’s, as the crow flies, but not even the crows flew it.  The high mountain range that served as the border between the two kingdoms [of Dorimar and Kanselaire] discouraged crows as much as it discouraged people, and it was considered unpassable’.  The enchantress who has cast the spell upon the castle in which the princess lies is ‘old as the hills, evil as a snake, all malevolence and magic and death’.  Throughout, the prose has a fable-like tone to it, and it reminds one of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in terms of some of the elements which converge to create the mini-plots within it.

The Sleeper and The Spindle is both imaginative and inventive.  The queen is a strong character, powerful both in terms of her standing within the kingdom, and her determination and actions.  The way in which the plot follows different characters at simultaneous periods works wonderfully.  The elements which Gaiman has woven in add depth to the original story, from the voyage of self-discovery which the queen takes, to friendship and loyalty.  Appearances are deceptive, however; whilst The Sleeper and The Spindle looks as though it is suitable for a very young audience, there is definite darkness within it, and not all of the scenes may be suitable for children.

The book itself is beautiful; the black and white illustrations are accented with gold paint, and the transparent dustjacket is a lovely touch.  So much thought has been put into the use of words and pictures, and they complement each other beautifully.  The Sleeper and The Spindle is certainly a very enjoyable fairytale retelling.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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Short Story Series: Part Three

I adore reading short stories, and don’t see many reviews of collections on blogs in comparison to novels and the like.  I thought that I would make a weekly series to showcase short stories, and point interested readers in the direction of some of my favourite collections.  Rather than ramble in adoration for every single book, I have decided to copy their official blurb.  I have linked my blog reviews where appropriate.

1. Tales from the Secret Annex by Anne Frank
‘The candid, poignant, unforgettable writing of the young girl whose own life story has become an everlasting source of courage and inspiration. Hiding from the Nazis in the ” Secret Annex” of an old office building in Amsterdam, a thirteen-year-old girl named Anne Frank became a writer. The now famous diary of her private life and thoughts reveals only part of Anne’s story, however. This book rounds out the portrait of this remarkable and talented young author. Newly translated, complete, and restored to the original order in which Anne herself wrote them in her notebook, Tales from the Secret Annex is a collection of Anne Frank’s lesser-known writings: short stories, fables, personal reminiscences, and an unfinished novel, Cady’s Life.’

2. M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman
‘In this collection of wonderful stories, which range between fantasy, humour, science fiction and a sprinkling of horror, the reader will relish the range and skill of Neil Gaiman’s writing. Be prepared to laugh at the detective story about Humpty Dumpty’s demise, spooked by the sinister jack-in -the-box who haunts the lives of the children who own it, and intrigued by the boy who is raised by ghosts in a graveyard in this collection of bite-sized narrative pleasures.’

3. The Persephone Book of Short Stories
This is an absolutely marvellous collection of short stories, featuring a plethora of different authors.

4. The Wordsworth Collection of Classic Short Stories
‘Poignant, wry, chilling, challenging, amusing, thought-provoking and always intriguing, these accomplished tales from the pens of great writers are object-lessons in the art of creating a literary masterpiece on a small canvas. From the straightforwardly anecdotal to the more analytical of human behaviour, all are guaranteed to capture the imagination, stir the emotions, linger in the memory and whet the reader’s appetite for more. In this book, Wordsworth Editions presents the modern reader with a rich variety of short stories by a host of towering literary figures ranging from Arnold Bennett to Virginia Woolf. This disparate and distinguished company of writers has rarely – if ever – met within the pages of one volume: the result is a positive feast.’

5. Stories to Get You Through the Night, edited by Helen Dunmore
‘”Stories to Get You Through the Night” is a collection to remedy life’s stresses and strains. Inside you will find writing from the greatest of classic and contemporary authors; stories that will brighten and inspire, move and delight, soothe and restore in equal measure. This is an anthology to devour or to savour at your leisure, each story a perfectly imagined whole to be read and reread, and each a journey to transport the reader away from the everyday. Immersed in the pages, you will follow lovers to midnight trysts, accompany old friends on new adventures, be thrilled by ghostly delights, overcome heartbreak, loss and longing, and be warmed by tales of redemption, and of hope and happiness. Whether as a cure for insomnia, to while away the hours on a midnight journey, or as a brief moment of escapism before you turn in, the stories contained in this remarkable collection provide the perfect antidote to the frenetic pace of modern life – a rich and calming selection guaranteed to see you through the night. It features stories by: Katherine Mansfield, Alice Munro, Anton Chekhov, Oscar Wilde, Haruki Murakami, Wilkie Collins, Kate Chopin, Elizabeth Gaskell, The Brothers Grimm, John Cheever, Arthur Conan Doyle, Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, Helen Simpson, Richard Yates, James Lasdun, Martin Amis, Angela Carter, Somerset Maugham and Julian Barnes.’

6. Cliffs of Fall by Shirley Hazzard
‘From the author of “The Great Fire,” a collection of stories about love and acceptance, expectations and disappointment Shirley Hazzard’s stories are sharp, sensitive portrayals of moments of crisis. Whether they are set in the Italian countryside or suburban Connecticut, the stories deal with real people and real problems. In the title piece, a young widow is surprised and ashamed by her lack of grief for her husband. In “A Place in the Country,” a young woman has a passionate, guilty affair with her cousin’s husband. In “Harold,” a gawky, lonely young man finds acceptance and respect through his poetry. Moving and evocative, these ten stories are written with subtlety, humor, and a keen understanding of the relationships between men and women.’

You can find my review here.

7. The Red Garden, by Alice Hoffman
‘”The Red Garden” introduces us to the luminous and haunting world of Blackwell, Massachusetts, capturing the unexpected turns in its history and in our own lives. In exquisite prose, Hoffman offers a transforming glimpse of small-town America, presenting us with some three hundred years of passion, dark secrets, loyalty, and redemption in a web of tales where characters’ lives are intertwined by fate and by their own actions. From the town’s founder, a brave young woman from England who has no fear of blizzards or bears, to the young man who runs away to New York City with only his dog for company, the characters in “The Red Garden” are extraordinary and vivid: a young wounded Civil War soldier who is saved by a passionate neighbor, a woman who meets a fiercely human historical character, a poet who falls in love with a blind man, a mysterious traveler who comes to town in the year when summer never arrives. At the center of everyone’s life is a mysterious garden where only red plants can grow, and where the truth can be found by those who dare to look. Beautifully crafted, shimmering with magic, “The Red Garden” is as unforgettable as it is moving.’

8. Art in Nature by Tove Jansson
‘An elderly caretaker at a large outdoor exhibition, called Art in Nature, finds that a couple have lingered on to bicker about the value of a picture; he has a surprising suggestion that will resolve both their row and his own ambivalence about the art market. A draughtsman’s obsession with drawing locomotives provides a dark twist to a love story. A cartoonist takes over the work of a colleague who has suffered a nervous breakdown only to discover that his own sanity is in danger. In these witty, sharp, often disquieting stories, Tove Jansson reveals the fault-lines in our relationship with art, both as artists and as consumers. Obsession, ambition, and the discouragement of critics are all brought into focus in these wise and cautionary tales.’

Purchase from The Book Depository

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‘Hansel and Gretel’ by Neil Gaiman ****

Neil Gaiman’s ‘darkly brilliant’ retelling of Hansel and Gretel has been illustrated by award-winning Lorenzo Mattotti.  It begins in rather a beguiling manner: ‘This all happened a long time ago, in your grandmother’s time, or in her grandfather’s.  A long time ago.  Back then, we all lived on the edge of the great forest’.

Gaiman is perhaps one of the most enduring contemporary multi-genre authors, and his forays into fairytales are sure to please many of his readers.  In Hansel and Gretel there are, of course, echoes of the original Grimm story, but Gaiman’s take has a fresh feel, and unexpected twists make their way into its plot.  He places the plot against the backdrop of an unspecified war, for example, which anchors it historically: ‘War came, and the soldiers came with it – hungry, angry, bored, scared men who, as they passed through, stole the cabbages and the chickens and the ducks’.

The prose itself is Grimm-esque; rather simplistic, but with something sinister lurking just ahead.  There are subtle differences between Gaiman’s story and the original too; instead of leaving the usual trail of breadcrumbs on their second journey into the woods, for example, Hansel drops ‘a little white stone to mark each change of direction’.

The imagery which Gaiman builds is lovely.  He uses descriptions to build vivid scenes in the minds of his readers: ‘a grove of birch trees, their trunks paper-white against the darkness of the forest’, ‘trees that tangled together like clutching hands’, and ‘the day waned and twilight fell, and the shadows crept out from beneath each tree and puddled and pooled until the world was one huge shadow’, for instance.  The sense of atmosphere has also been well created.

So much thought has been put into the visual appearance of Hansel and Gretel, and the use of whirling – almost frenzied – black and white illustrations on double-page spreads adds a real darkness to the whole.  These illustrations are largely interspersed with text; the very notion that both elements are together yet separate works well.  The added section at the end of the story, which tells of the origins of and takes upon Hansel and Gretel, is a lovely touch.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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Spooky Halloween Reads (Part Two – Contemporary)

Continuing the spooky book list from last week, here are my choices of some contemporary books to read during Halloween.

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1. Unnatural Creatures edited by Neil Gaiman

“The griffin, the sunbird, manticores, unicorns ­– all manner of glorious creatures never captured in zoos, museums or photographs are packed vividly into this collection of stories. Neil Gaiman has included some of his own childhood favourites alongside stories classic and modern to spark the imagination of readers young and old. All contributors have given their work free to benefit Dave Eggers’ literacy charity, 826DC. Also includes a new Neil Gaiman Story.”

 

2. The Shining by Stephen Kingshining uk

“Danny was only five years old but in the words of old Mr Halloran he was a ‘shiner’, aglow with psychic voltage. When his father became caretaker of the Overlook Hotel his visions grew frighteningly out of control. As winter closed in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seemed to develop a life of its own. It was meant to be empty, but who was the lady in Room 217, and who were the masked guests going up and down in the elevator? And why did the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive? Somewhere, somehow there was an evil force in the hotel – and that too had begun to shine…”

darkharvest13. Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge 

“Halloween, 1963. They call him the October Boy, or Ol’ Hacksaw Face, or Sawtooth Jack. Whatever the name, everybody in this small Midwestern town knows who he is. How he rises from the cornfields every Halloween, a butcher knife in his hand, and makes his way toward town, where gangs of teenage boys eagerly await their chance to confront the legendary nightmare. Both the hunter and the hunted, the October Boy is the prize in an annual rite of life and death. Pete McCormick knows that killing the October Boy is his one chance to escape a dead-end future in this one-horse town. He’s willing to risk everything, including his life, to be a winner for once. But before the night is over, Pete will look into the saw-toothed face of horror–and discover the terrifying true secret of the October Boy…”

4. Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy by Malcolm Gaskill 830108

” By spring 1645, two years of civil war had exacted a dreadful toll upon England. People lived in terror as disease and poverty spread, and the nation grew ever more politically divided. In a remote corner of Essex, two obscure gentlemen, Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne, exploited the anxiety and lawlessness of the time and initiated a brutal campaign to drive out the presumed evil in their midst. Touring Suffolk and East Anglia on horseback, they detected demons and idolators everywhere. Through torture, they extracted from terrified prisoners confessions of consorting with Satan and demonic spirits. Acclaimed historian Malcolm Gaskill retells the chilling story of the most savage witch-hunt in English history. By the autumn of 1647 at least 250 people–mostly women–had been captured, interrogated, and hauled before the courts. More than a hundred were hanged, causing Hopkins to be dubbed “Witchfinder General” by critics and admirers alike. Though their campaign was never legally sanctioned, they garnered the popular support of local gentry, clergy, and villagers. While Witchfinders tells of a unique and tragic historical moment fueled by religious fervor, today it serves as a reminder of the power of fear and fanaticism to fuel ordinary people’s willingness to demonize others.”

7613815. The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

“A fast-moving, eerie…tale set on Halloween night. Eight costumed boys running to meet their friend Pipkin at the haunted house outside town encounter instead the huge and cadaverous Mr. Moundshroud. As Pipkin scrambles to join them, he is swept away by a dark Something, and Moundshroud leads the boys on the tail of a kite through time and space to search the past for their friend and the meaning of Halloween. After witnessing a funeral procession in ancient Egypt, cavemen discovering fire, Druid rites, the persecution of witches in the Dark Ages, and the gargoyles of Notre Dame, they catch up with the elusive Pipkin in the catacombs of Mexico, where each boy gives one year from the end of his life to save Pipkin’s. Enhanced by appropriately haunting black-and-white drawings.”

6. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs 9460487

“A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive. A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.”

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Comic book: ‘Batman: Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader?’ ****

I am generally quite fond of comic books and graphic novels. So when my favourite super hero and one of my favourite authors come together, I simply can’t help but adore the result. 

I admit I’m rather biased when it comes to Neil Gaiman. I like everything he writes and sometimes I already know I’m going to like his work before I’ve even laid my eyes upon it. I knew Neil Gaiman was involved in comic book writing, but I had no idea he had written stories for Batman, a super hero I have adored since my childhood. That being said, I had high expectations from this book and it didn’t disappoint me. BM.WHCC.DJ.R1

The book consists of two chapters (and a wonderful introduction by Neil Gaiman) in which many of the well-known characters of the Batman universe come together in order to attend a funeral. Batman has died, and each of the characters will get up and narrate their own version of his death, each revealing a completely different approach to his character and attitude. 

It was certainly interesting to see the many different aspects of Batman’s character and also how each one of his friends or enemies perceived him until the very end. The solution given at the end was rather satisfying for me, however moving it may have been. The art was splendid throughout the comic book and I really loved the dark atmosphere that was created, since I believe it suited the story very well. 

I always find it somehow fitting for a super hero to have a kind of closure to his story. Usually, super heros never really die because otherwise they wouldn’t be super heros. I believe every story should have a proper ending to it, but one thing this book has proven is that every end is also a new beginning. 

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Flash Reviews (September 25th 2013)

M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman ****
This is such a clever and well written story collection, filled with Gaiman’s trademark smoke and mirrors.  I found the entirety very inventive, and would recommend it to any fans of short stories and magical realism.  My favourite tales were ‘The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds’, ‘Troll Bridge’, ‘October in the Chair’, ‘Chivalry’ and ‘The Witch’s Headstone’ (from The Graveyard Book).

The Journal of Katherine Mansfield *****
This is one of the few books which I’ve been the most excited about reading in my entire life.  Mansfield is one of my favourite authors, and she is the reason why I now adore short stories.  This is truly the most exquisite of journals.  Mansfield writes with such clarity, even during her fugs of illness, and I love the little story fragments and ideas for possible tales dotted throughout.  Utterly, utterly lovely.

How They Met and Other Stories by David Levithan ****
This is the first of Levithan’s solo works which I’ve read, and I very much enjoyed it.  As one can guess from the title, love is the central theme of this collection, and sexuality the second.  Levithan writes with wonderful clarity, and each and every one of his characters and their situations felt real in consequence.  Each story is a gem in itself, and I find myself unable to pick any favourites, as I enjoyed each and every one for different reasons.

The Rose-Garden Husband by Margaret Widdemer ***
I would probably have never come across this had it not been for Fleur Fisher’s lovely and encouraging review.  The story was most enjoyable and very sweet, and I enjoyed Widdemer’s writing.  My only qualm was with the rather unrealistic and predictable ending, hence my three star rating.