REVIEW: Doctor Who: Silhouette (12th Doctor)- Justin Richards

“Vastra and Strax and Jenny? Oh no, we don’t need to bother them. Trust me.”

Marlowe Hapworth is found dead in his locked study, killed by an unknown assailant. This is a case for the Great Detective, Madame Vastra.

Rick Bellamy, bare-knuckle boxer, has the life drawn out of him by a figure dressed as an undertaker. This angers Strax the Sontaran.

The Carnival of Curiosities, a collection of bizarre and fascinating sideshows and performers. This is where Jenny Flint looks for answers.

How are these things connected? And what does Orestes Milton, rich industrialist, have to do with it all? As the Doctor and Clara joint the hunt for the truth they find themselves thrust into a world where nothing and no one are what they seem.

I’ve read a few of the Doctor Who novels and novellas.  I particularly liked the Justin Richards penned Paternoster Gang novella ‘The Devil in the Smoke’ so when I saw that one of the first 12th Doctor books to be released would be both written by Justin Richards and featuring Vastra, Jenny and Strax I straightaway decided to pre-order it- despite my mixture of fascination and trepidation about the carnival setting.  I love the idea of the circus and carnival performers…all except clowns.  I hate clowns.  I was hoping that there wouldn’t be any scary clown scenes (there weren’t, phew!!)

On 11th September the book arrived onto my Kindle and by the next day I had read the entire book.  It’s an easy read and the characters were written beautifully.  I particularly thought the depiction of Strax was note-perfect.  He gets all the best lines, is incredibly funny and the way he mixes up pronouns was captured brilliantly.  I understand that Sontarans are clones so they are all male, thus no need for gendered pronouns.  However, Strax refers to Clara as “Miss” and this confuses me.  In this novel, Clara asks Strax about this and his answer definitely made sense to me and put my mind at ease on the matter for good!  I also really enjoyed Strax’s friendship-of-sorts with a bloke he gets to know in the local pub.  On the surface they may seem to have little in common but they enjoy to complain, drink and fight and that is enough to bond them together!

The Doctor definitely maintains the darkness that Capaldi has brought to the role so far, and the change in relationship between him and Clara is captured brilliantly too.  Clara gets to work alongside the doctor, but also to investigate on her own, allowing us to see her as an independent woman and not just a sidekick.

My only issue with relationships in the book is regarding Madame Vastra and Jenny. There is no mention of their marriage and the relationship depicted is that of mistress and maid rather than of the loving couple (albeit with some power imbalance) we’ve seen on the TV.  I did like, however, that Vastra’s storyline did allow us to see her as a more emotional being.  Jenny, as usual, is empathetic, friendly yet strong.

The story is paced well and builds a real sense of suspense.  The carnival setting provides an eerie mysterious atmosphere and it is easy to imagine this fantastical setting populated with strong men, bearded ladies, wolf boys and indeed potato headed squat men and lizard women.  The book is a mixture of Victorian mystery (murder in a locked room) and Sci-Fi (aliens, mysterious energy spikes) and the other-worldliness carnival setting means that this combination works really well together.

I’m struggling to say anymore without giving any spoilers away but I will say that I loved this book.  It was an enjoyable romp through Victorian London and I would love more Doctor Who books featuring The Paternoster Gang.

i remember beirut

REVIEW: I Remember Beirut- Zeina Abirached

Thank you to NetGalley and Lerner Publishing Group for sending me this book as an ARC in return for an honest review.

This book will be published on 1st October 2014

I Remember Beirut is an autobiographical graphic novel memoir, telling of Zeina Abirached’s experience of growing up in 1980s Lebanon as a Christian Lebanese child.

My first impression when I looked at the cover of I Remember Beirut was that the artwork seemed extremely reminiscent of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.  I have found Persepolis to be one of the most moving books I have ever read, and so this resemblance meant that I was simultaneously worried and excited. Excited- that it would be an honest, thought-provoking memoir like its predecessor; worried- that it would be too derivative of Persepolis, that it wouldn’t stand up in strength in comparison to Satrapi’s work.

In I Remember Beirut, Abirached appears to address a younger readership than suggested in Persepolis.  The book is presented not so much as a narrative but a set of vignettes, joined together with the sentence start “I remember.”  It’s a simple technique which would be appealing to children and allows them to see 1980s Beirut from a child’s point of view.  Abirached doesn’t get into the politics of the period, instead presenting the reader purely with what she does remember- the bulletholes that changed the colour of the family car, her brother’s collection of shrapnel, the night that they had to sleep in the school.  These memories are childlike and innocent but also hint at some of the underlying worries of living in the Lebanon at this time.  However, having a child’s perspective means that we not only see the terror but also the simplistic joys of an infant.  I do think that the repetitiveness means that the book possibly works better for a younger audience.  After a while, I tired a little of “I remember”, but the memories themselves were so powerful they always drew me back in.

Yes, the drawing style is reminiscent of Persepolis, but Abirached’s images have a sense of childlike wonder and whimsy that isn’t present in Satrapi’s work.  Although we are aware that this book is written by an adult looking back, we get an impression that she can vividly remember what it was like to be young.  Her pictures reflect this- the spiral waves of her hair, the simple blocky shapes of buildings.  There is a real sense of nostalgia in these images which is appealing.

Personally, I believe that Persepolis is a stronger memoir for an adult reader with a more engaging narrative.  However, for a younger reader I believe that this explains on their level some of the experiences of living in a war-torn country. 

Fifty Shades of Censorship

Part of the Banned Books Week Blog Party over at Things Matter.

On May 25 2011 Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James was published.  For the years following this E.L. James has been on the ALA Top Ten Challenged Book Lists.  The reasons given for the challenges are “nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.”

Personally, I’m not a fan of Fifty Shades. When they first started to get media interest I downloaded the first of the trilogy onto my kindle.  I’m really nosy and at the hint of a little bit of controversy about a book I tend to want to buy or download it straight away.  I wanted to know what was driving women who didn’t usually read to pick up this book.  I also hadn’t read any erotica before and wanted to know what all the fuss was about.  I’d heard women raving about the relationship and passion between the two characters and wanted to experience this for myself.  I was disappointed.  I couldn’t stand Anastasia and couldn’t understand how a girl who had never had any sexual experience before could so quickly find herself drawn into the world of BDSM just through the sheer magnetism of this man.  I couldn’t understand why during the infamous Thomas Tallis scene she didn’t use the safe word!!!!  I couldn’t understand what was so attractive about a man who seemed to me to be obsessive, controlling and stalker-like.  I have no problem with the idea of consenting adults engaging in power play or other activities but this didn’t seem to be a healthy relationship to me.  What has controlling her food intake throughout the day got to do with sex? I read half of Fifty Shades Darker in the hope that miraculously I would understand what so many women were seeing in Mr Grey but in the end I had to give up.  I couldn’t take any more references to “my sex” or “inner goddess” and I just couldn’t buy into Anastasia and Christian’s relationship. (It probably didn’t help that I had recently seen ‘Secretary’- a film which I felt dealt with the topic much better than the book Fity Shades of Grey did.  Buzzfeed recently published this list of reasons to watch Secretary before the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey is released).

Anyway, I think the book is badly written and tries to depict an abusive relationship as exciting and adventurous. So, do I want to see it banned?


I understand that children could get their hands on it and could find themselves reading something totally unsuitable for their age.  Surely we as adults should be able to have conversations with our children about age suitability and content? Also, surely librarians and booksellers are capable and sensible enough to keep an eye on who is borrowing the book.  This can be done without having to ban a book outright from a library system.

I might find this relationship to be abusive but there are plenty of women for whom Fifty Shades has opened a new world of reading.  Why should I stop them from enjoying something just because it doesn’t fit with my ideals? There is a very simple answer to it- I just won’t read it again!

I think we need to know that it’s OK to shield our children from certain content without banning it outright.  Censorship often drives us more to discover what has been hidden from us- see this article in the Huffington Post.


Banned Books: Shel Silverstein

My first exposure to the work of Shel Silverstein was through the songs of Dr Hook.  Each Sunday in our house was the day that my Dad got to take over the record player and in amongst the repetitious playing of Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan there would be thrown some Dr Hook.  Mum was really glad of the reprieve from the rumbling tones of Dylan’s voice (she’s not a fan) and so their Dr Hook’s Greatest Hits tape got played a lot! I didn’t know it at the time but many of my favourite songs on that album were written by Shel Silverstein- Sylvia’s Mother, The Cover of the Rolling Stone, The Ballad of Lucy Jordan.  As a child I didn’t really understand the nuances of meaning in that last song but now as an adult I just find the mix of sadness and beauty to be breathtaking.

A few years ago I was studying for a post-graduate qualification in Children’s Literature.  I intended to write a dissertation and gain a Masters but unfortunately there was a family bereavement and I didn’t feel able to keep up with the pressure of working full time and studying too.  I had, however, began to research and plan my dissertation which was going to be on the relationship between nonsense poetry for children and subversive tendencies.  My dissertation supervisor suggested I take a look at the work of Shel Silverstein and I was absolutely gobsmacked.  His writing was just what I was looking for! I just wish I’d known about it when I was a child. It reminded me very much of Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes- anarchic, engaging patterned rhyme schemes, great engaging pictures (in Shel’s case drawn by himself) and very very wickedly funny! I straightaway started googling him (is google now a recognised verb? I feel it may be!) I realised that he was the guy who wrote the amazing lyrics I loved as a child.  Straightaway I bought copies of Where The Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic and Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book- all of which I now class amongst my favourites!

A Light in the Attic  and Where The Sidewalk Ends have been challenged many times in US libraries and schools- a fact which I just find bewildering.  Reasons listed included “How Not To Have To Dry The Dishes” for encouraging messiness, “Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony” for telling the story of a child who died because her parents did not buy her the pet she wanted, “Dreadful” for encouraging cannibalism.  I think the reasons I love these books are the same reasons that they have been challenged so many times- dark humour, delicious irony, questioning the norm.  Surely we’re not meant to take these poems at face value? I really can’t understand how somebody could.  Surely that demonstrates a complete sense of humour bypass?

Growing up is a hard thing to do.  There are so many rules to follow and obey.  Part of childhood is attempting to break those rules and then being told off for it.  Part of childhood is about transgressing norms and finding yourself.  Part of childhood is experimenting with humour and finding where the line is and how far you can push it.  I feel that all of this is addressed in Silverstein’s poetry.  As a child I was definitely a goody-goody but I loved poetry (and it was always poetry, not prose) that pushed the boundaries.  Why rhyming poetry (and it usually is poetry that rhymes that is subversive) lends itself to this so well I don’t know? Maybe the form and rhyme scheme provides a wry little wink at us? I just wish that I’d known about these poems when I was younger and hope that many children do have the opportunity to explore these poems!

Thanks to Hannah from Things Matter for the Banned Books Week Blog Party!


REVIEW: Season To Taste- Natalie Young

Meet Lizzie Prain. She is an ordinary housewife and lives with her lovely dog and her husband, who is a bit of a difficult fellow, in a quiet cottage in British country side. She’s a wonderful cook. She enjoys her garden. And, occasionally, she makes cakes for the village parties.

No one has seen Lizzie’s husband, Jacob, for a few days. That’s because last Monday and Lizzie snapped and cracked him on the head with her garden shovel. No one quite misses Jacob though, and Lizzie surely didn’t kill him on purpose. And now that she has the chance to live beyond his shadow, she won’t neglect her good fortune. Over the course of the following month, with a body to get rid of and few fail-proof options at hand, Lizzie will channel her most practical instincts and do what she does best: she’ll cook Jacob, and she’ll eat him. But when Lizzie inadvertently befriends an isolated misfit, she will be tested: Will Lizzie turn to this new person for solace and abandon her desperate plan or will her new friend be an unwitting accessory to her crime?

Thanks to BookBridgr and Tinder Press for this book in return for an honest review.

This post has been a long time in the making, mainly because I just didn’t know how to approach it.  The book has a really clever concept- Lizzie has killed her husband and now needs to find a way to dispose of the body which will mean she never gets caught.  The way she decides upon is to cook his body in a range of dishes (including boiling the bones down until they are soft) and gradually eat the evidence up.  The problem is that I didn’t feel that the delivery was good enough to stand up to what it initially promised.

The cover is really inviting.  It looks almost like a standard cookbook style cover until you notice the subtitle- “or… how to eat your husband.” The incongruity between the idea of cannibalism and the mundane nature of an everyday cookbook really appealed to me.  I wanted to read about what led Lizzie to carry out such a gruesome challenge and about the realities of carrying such a disgusting feat out.

Where Young really delivered was on the gruesomeness.  This book is not to be read whilst eating or after a large meal or in fact before a large meat-based meal.  It will put you off.  However, despite it being gory I did feel that the descriptions of the cooking were intelligently written.  The writing created an idea of the sights, smells and textures of cooking human flesh and it was so successful in this respect that I kept having to take little breaks from the reading of the cannibalism scenes.

The problem with the book is that apart from Lizzie eating her husband nothing much seemed to actually happen.  It seems weird to say this about a book about cannibalism but I really got bored.  The book seemed to lack the dark humour that I thought would be included and just seemed to go on and on.  I also thought that a book about killing your husband would include more moments of remorse, panic or… well, emotion.  It just seemed to be lacking.  Also, I didn’t feel that the husband really deserved his fate so I couldn’t really feel complicit and excited about Lizzie’s actions but neither did I really feel outraged.  I just felt it was disgusting. There wasn’t the emotion to pull it through.

I do think that Young writes intelligently and would be interested to see what she writes in the future.  However, Season To Taste was not for me.  It did, however, teach me a good way to stop strangers from talking to you on the train.

Stranger: “What are you reading?”

Grumpy tired me wanting a bit of peace: “Season to Taste: or How To Eat Your Husband”

Stranger: “Oh!” (starts to inch away from the suspected husband killer next to them)

ready player one

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Ready Player One- Ernest Cline (narrated by Wil Wheaton)

It’s the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We’re out of oil. We’ve wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS – and his massive fortune – will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle.

Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions – and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.

A while ago, I was reading Another After Thought’s response to a Top Ten Tuesday theme and I came across a reference to Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.   The plot summary sounded really intriguing so I downloaded a sample of it on to my Kindle.  The concept of a utopian virtual reality within a dystopian world really appealed to me, as did the 1980s pop culture references.  However, whilst I was looking at the Amazon Reviews I noticed very favourable comments about the audiobook version narrated by Wil Wheaton.  I’ve recently started listening to audiobooks and have taken out an audible account so I thought it would be a good idea to use a credit on Ready Player One.

If you do buy this audiobooks through audible you are getting great value for money in terms of listening time alone.  For the cost of one credit (£7.99 in the UK or £3.99 for the first 3 months if you are a new user) you get nearly 16 hours of listening.

If you are listening to one voice for 16 hours you want it to be someone engaging and entertaining and Wil Wheaton certainly was that.  It also made sense for a known fan of computers to narrate a book which focuses so heavily on early computers, consoles, arcade and adventure games.  The casting in my opinion was pretty spot on.  He made Wade come to life and his voice seemed really authentic as a gaming expert.  He also was able to use expression and tone of voice to depict the other characters well so you could follow what was happening during dialogue.

I loved the idea that a huge inheritance was given as a prize for finding a hidden Easter Egg in a computer game… albeit a huge and sprawling computer game.  The initial chapters of the book which explain the back story of the competition really hooked me in.  I really wanted to know how someone could manage to find something hidden in such a large and ever-growing virtual world.

I found the character of Wade to be a typical teenage boy.  Sometimes his obsessive nature and narrow sightedness really annoyed me but ultimately he had good intentions and was really likable.  I really enjoyed the relationship between him and his best friend, Aech.  The interplay, banter and competition between the two of them was really realistic and you could imagine a real pair of teenagers behaving like this in the real world.  I also really liked the fact that the book showed that girls could be just as good as boys on computers.  Art3mis is a strong female role model- cool, logical, unswayed by the possibility of a virtual romance.  I thought it was great how the book depicted Wade as more romantically minded than her, showing that girls are not just interested in chasing boys all of the time.

The book started really well- explaining Wade’s home life, school and his attempts to find the first key.  However, after he managed to pass the second gate my enthusiasm for the book began to wane and I started to listen to the audiobook in smaller stints.  I still liked the characters, the story and Wheaton’s narration but the constant explanations of the minutiae of 1980s pop culture began to wane.  I think it’s because it wasn’t actually pop culture in general… there was so much about gaming. I don’t mind gaming but I’m not a huge fan to the extent that I want to listen to constant lists of when games were developed or blow by blow breakdowns of the action that occurs in Zork (or other games).  I think had I been reading the book I would have given up at this point as it just would have been too much hard work to wade through all of this to get to the plot.  This is where the beauty of audiobooks comes in.  I found myself listening intently to the plot-driven elements of the story and then just letting the unnecessary (to me) details wash over me.  I found Wil Wheaton’s voice to be very relaxing so this worked really well.

I think if you are a big gaming fan you would love this.  I think that if you have a certain knowledge of the games, films and music that are being referenced you definitely get more out of the story.  For example, my favourite part of the quest was when Wade had to take the role of various characters from Monty Python and the Holy Grail… mainly because I know most of the lines off by heart myself so it just made so much more sense to me.  If you are not a gaming fan but still want to give Ready Player One a go I would definitely recommend doing so via audiobook.

Banned Books Week

Every year the American Library Association hold an event intended to celebrate an individual’s freedom to read and to highlight the dangers of book censorship. During Banned Books Week, the ALA promote literature which has been challenged or banned in state libraries and schools. I spent over an hour this morning just reading the lists of books which have been banned over the years and boggling over some of the reasons (Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss was challenged in one school for depicting homosexual seduction!)

Here in the UK the banning of books doesn’t appear to be so widespread (anymore).  However, this may be because control lies more in the hands of the individual headteacher.  There have been reports of individual schools banning titles but it doesn’t seem to happen as often as in the US… or perhaps it happens but we just don’t hear of it.  Despite this some libraries in the UK do celebrate banned books too and websites such as Guardian Books feature books that have been targeted in this way during the US Banned Books Week.

Hannah from Things Matter is holding a Banned Books Week Blog Party during the week of 21-27 September and is inviting book bloggers (and bloggers who sometimes focus upon books) to join her in celebrating our freedom to read.

Here are the “rules” for participation-

  • Choose a book from the ALA lists of banned books, or one that’s been banned/challenged in your area.
  • Share a little about the book and why it’s important to you at your online space.
  • Tag/ping/message other people to do posts of their own.
  • Link back to her initial post, and leave your link in her comments, so we can all read each others’ responses!
  • You can do this for one book or you could blog several times about different banned titles.

I’m linking to a number of fabulous bloggers that I read. If you are already planned for next week (you are much more organised than I am!), don’t have the time or don’t feel able to take part in some way don’t worry… there is no obligation to participate.  Conversely if you are not pinged to but really want to join in that is great! I really look forward to next week and being able to explore more banned books.

It’s All About Books

By Hook or By Book

The Bookish Owl

Another After Thought

After The Book Hangover

Eye of Lynx

Anna’s Reading List

The Book Heap