Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Breakfast at Tiffany's

I love the film adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s; it’s not just Audrey Hepburn’s style oozing out all over the place but it also has armfuls of charm. I have been told multiple times that the book is so different, which is probably why I put off reading it so long. Faced with choosing this month’s classic, the song by Deep Blue Something came on the radio and made my decision for me. It helps that it’s a novella (and most editions also include three short stories as well).

Really, the film has so much dialogue lifted from the book I have no idea what all those people have been talking about. OK Holly Golightly is blonde and it’s not a romance, even if all the men around her fall a little bit in love. She’s no meaner on the page than on screen (and let’s face it, most people ignore her meanness in the film). Poor Mr Yunioshi however had an appalling adpatation (on the subject this is an interesting opinion piece from an Asian-American), really he’s just the photographer upstairs at the start of the book.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, Holly is a café society girl who doesn’t work but lives off dinners and favours from rich men. The unkind among us might call her a prostitute but it’s made clear at some point that in most cases there is no sex involved. She tries very hard to appear not to care but there are glimpses of the fragile young woman underneath when her façade slips, especially in regards to her brother Fred.

If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany's, then I'd buy some furniture and give the cat a name.

The narrator is a writer who lives in the same brownstone who slowly becomes friends with her, amused by the comings and goings at her door. She mixes with playboys, Hollywood agents, foreign dignitaries, gangsters… and has a half blind cat with no name, not that she owns him of course. The cat's quite symbolic, Holly is as much a stray as he is, neither of them belonging to anyone.

It’s bizarre that it’s introduced as wartime and this really highlights the difference between Britain and America at the time. There’s a small reference to not being able to bake as normal due to rations, but Holly’s life is untouched by the events in Europe.

The ending may differ a little from the film, but there’s still an emotional scene involving the cat and the very last page made me smile.

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Book Source: Purchased

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found

The huge stores of human remains in our museums are an uncomfortable reminder of the oppression and inequalities of our past.

Like many books on a niche subject, Severed explores heads from different angles, using history, culture and science. It’s split into fairly long chapters on Shrunken Heads, Trophy Heads (war), Deposed Heads (execution), Framed Heads (art), Potent Heads (religion), Bone Heads (skulls), Dissected Heads (medical) and Living Heads. It seems there’s a long-standing fascination with the human head once it’s been removed from the body.

Obviously it covers the well-known guillotine and the French obsession with it during the revolution. It’s worrying to think it was created to reduce the spectacle; an efficient machine to remove head but to reduce the gore and horror that could be seen, and revelled in, by the crowds. I didn’t know that Madame Tussaud was an actual person and her original wax museum was filled with portraits cast from heads fresh from the guillotine.

It does serve as a reminder of the awfulness of Europeans throughout history (and I’m including those who colonised America in this, they weren't innocent either). From creating an artificial demand for shrunken heads, so much so that people (or sloths!) were killed to order, to the degrading way bodies of the poor were treated, this is a side of history many would like to forget.

We hear a lot about the Victorian obsession with classification of the natural world but not that it extended to the human race as well. Thousands of skulls were collected and studied in an aim to work out what made some people better than others. To classify races and keep a record of indigenous peoples practically wiped out by the rabid colonisation of the world.

I found the most uncomfortable reading was that surrounding the experimentation on recently guillotined heads to see if they were still alive in there. There’s something really unsettling about this, and if it were true, what horrible tortures were committed during the period.

On a more positive note, it redresses some of the bad rep of medical students, showing a huge amount of respect, and even tenderness, for their cadavers. There are no tales of pranks, but shows how people come to terms with cutting up a human being, how it’s not always an easy thing to live with, even if the end goal is something worthy.
Once a fragment of the human body is preserved and kept above ground for any length of time, rather than being returned to the earth in the normal way, it develops an identity of its own and tends to resist its own burial.

It’s a grisly but fascinating look at human history, I was probably less engaged in the parts about saints and the severed head in art. Not to say there weren’t interesting bits but I felt these chapters were too long for the material contained. There’s a fair bit of repetition across the chapters and the final one, “Living Heads” seemed to be a bit of a mish-mash of some areas already covered as well as a little bit on cryogenics and scientific experimentation.

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Also reviewed @ Booking in Heels

Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Through the Woods

A family left alone in their house awaiting their father’s return. A new wife haunted by singing at night. A brother who can’t be and a friend who only pretends to hear the dead. Something in the woods which means you don’t return the same. These five eerie stories are stunningly illustrated and will leave you double checking the doors at night…
What if I reached out... just past the edge of the bed...
Through the Woods is a genuinely creepy read. One of the things that affects me most in horror is what is not seen, so I wasn’t entirely sure that it would work for me in graphic novel form, but Emily Carroll’s stories have the right level of suspense and things lurking in the dark. They don't have neat conclusions either, leaving you with that sense of unease.

There’s a few visual references to Little Red Riding Hood but this is not a fairy tale retelling (although Grimm’s original stories do have a similar level of macabre). Don’t go into the woods alone or at night, is common phrase throughout horror, or just simply our childhoods where our parents try and keep us from playing somewhere potentially dangerous. These stories play on that idea, some are about going into the woods and coming a cropper or others are about people who simply live in the woods…and then something awful happens to them.

The books itself is gorgeous. The cover is all textured and there’s a lot of muted colours, and monochrome with red, which is a particular aesthetic I love. There was some variety in the style too, which shows a greater skill in the artist than pages and pages that all look the same. Yet it all comes together into a package that feels right.

My only quibble would be that there wasn't more of it. I do love the visual aspect of graphic novels but I often feeling myself ending them far too soon for my liking. Maybe this is something that will wear off the more I read! You can check out Emily's work on her website and also read one of the stories from this book, His Face Is Red, online for free.

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Also reviewed @ Lit Addicted Brit

Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 20 March 2016

5 Year Blogoversary!

Today marks the fifth birthday of Curiosity Killed the Bookworm. In some ways I feel like I’ve come full circle with this blogging thing. Like so many of you, it all started as a place to write some words about something I love, books! Then it’s all too easy to get caught up in the madness of review copies. We all go through periods of amazing productivity and enthusiasm, but I do want to spend a little time today talking about taking it easy.

TLDR? Scroll to the bottom for the giveaway!

Photo by: Geoff Gallice/Creative Commons 2.0.

I can understand totally why publishers want to give review copies to new bloggers. I see grumblings from time to time that proofs are handed out like candy to anyone who wants them. First off, it’s the publisher’s choice to do whatever they want with their publicity and marketing budgets. When you think a little harder about it, why wouldn’t you want the fresh enthusiasm and excitement for books that newbies bloggers often have in bundles?

Don’t get me wrong, I think us established bloggers can get incredibly excited about books still, but maybe we have been become dulled to the thud of yet another new book dropping through the letterbox. Honestly, I can’t summon anticipation for yet another unsolicited crime novel when I have asked not to be sent them. I feel like I am pretty reserved with my praise; my reviews often being more critical than a publicist might want, even if it’s something I liked. But this is where things come full circle, I am blogging primarily for me again.

I try to read books when I want to read them. I do have a little more structure this year due to setting myself a monthly quota of classic, graphic novel and non-fiction, but these are all books I’m picking out for myself. It’s widening my reading beyond what’s new and shiny, things that often reach saturation level on social media and make us switch off.

Obviously I’m only human and I do get caught up with wanting to read new enticing books. I do get a little bit jealous when I see those books I want to read going out and I don’t get one. But I don’t act on it. I can buy them if I really want to read them, and half the time, when publication date comes along, that shininess and desire has worn off. Like the rest of you, I don’t have time to read everything I want, even if I didn’t have a day job.

I have a sense of being a bit detached from the blogosphere right now. It’s exhausting keeping up, always being on social media to join in chats or knowing what the latest hot potato is. I don’t always want to read the current in thing (and there’s always so many of them) and I don’t always have the time or money to go to events. I haven’t done an opinion piece in so long because half the time it feels like it is just stirring things that can actually just be left in peace. Click bait journalism has spread to blogging and I certainly don’t want to contribute.

My stats are down, but you know, I don’t care as much as I would even a year ago. I have things going on in my life, exciting things like buying my first house. God that is all consuming and stressful, yet it makes picking up a book a little treat. I can’t blog every day, I never have had that kind of focus, now actually I’m pretty chuffed at the moment to have time to blog once a week.

So what I want to say to everyone who has been blogging a while and is starting to get fazed by it all, give yourself a break. If it is truly a hobby, do it when you want to. Do the things that make you happy or feel fulfilled. Don’t bog yourself down with what you think you should be doing based on someone else’s rules.

I know plenty of bloggers who treat their blog as if it were a second job. It’s great to have that level of professionalism but you wouldn’t not take time off your job, would you? You get holidays and sick leave. Some people even take sabbaticals. If your paid job can cope without you for a week or two, so can your blog.

The secret to keeping a blog going long term is channelling a little bit of sloth.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Tell the Wind and Fire

In the future, magic has divided humanity into light and dark. Lucie lives in the light half of the city, surrounded by luxury, receiving a certain celebrity status for her story of one who came out of the dark shining. Yet the light regime left her without a mother and her father in tatters. Helping her rebuild her life is her boyfriend, Ethan, but when his life is threatened, Lucie must start a fight for everything she loves and everything she believes in.

Tell the wind and fire where to stop, but don't tell me.

Tell the Wind and Fire is loosely based on Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, even borrowing its famous opening line. The dark magicians are the equivalent of the French peasantry, suffering under the oppression of the light rulers. The light are the aristocracy, about to be toppled by a revolution. Like in the source material, there are innocent people on both sides who get caught up in the mess.

The main character shares her name with that of Dickens’ story, Lucie Manette, her father having faced a similar fate in both books. She is known as the Golden Thread in the Dark, a name given to her after her performance of grief and innocence freed her father from the savage punishment inflicted on him by the light’s excuse for a justice system.

People will come up with a hundred thousand reasons why other people do not count as human, but that does not mean anyone has to listen.

Ethan, Lucie’s boyfriend and heir to a powerful light family, is about to be executed for treason when Carwyn steps into their lives. He looks just like Ethan and his presence reveals the Stryker family’s biggest, and darkest, secret.

I found the initial world building a little clumsy. A lot of the dark magicians did this but the light magicians did that and the dark city does this, the light city does another thing. Lots of repetition of light and dark and it was a bit info-dumpy at the same time. I can see people just giving up on it before the going gets good. However once this was over I really got into the story and the characters.

The world Lucie inhabits is a dark and gruesome one. It doesn’t brush over the cruelty on either side of the revolution, what happens when you stop seeing people and just see what they represent. Lucie is privileged but there are no easy answers, even with her celebrity to help her.

A rebellion implied something tried, whereas a revolution implied something that had succeeded in turning the whole world upside down.

I enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t really a romance, Lucie and Ethan are already an established couple at the start, and whilst they have their stumbles and trials (what relationship doesn’t?) I never felt like it was ever suggesting that Lucie might get it on with his doppelganger. I liked the development of Carwyn as something more than just a creature of darkness and the ending was genuinely moving.

I do wonder if it suffered a little from having to fit into a predetermined maximum length for young adult and it could have done with a bit more time to shine. Sarah’s writing, once it gets past the awkward introduction, is engaging and with a bit of perseverance, it was an entertaining fantasy story. Just don’t go into it expecting Dickens or a traditional romance.

Tell the Wind and Fire is published by Clarion Books and will be available in hardback from 5th April 2016. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

A Spool of Blue Thread

A Spool of Blue Thread tells the story of the Whitshanks and their family home in Baltimore. Red and Abby live in the house his father built, a man who arrived in 1920’s Baltimore with nothing more than a trade. Over four generations the family grows and the house fills.

He was like anybody else, Red said. Insufferable and likable. Bad and good.

In all honesty, I just don’t think this was my kind of book. If you’re a fan of family sagas, following several generations, it’s probably quite a good one. I found it an easy read but not a lot happens. And because there’s so many characters in this large, rambling family, I didn’t feel that their individual stories were told in enough depth.

There’s a key incident in the middle of the book that marked a turning point in my interest in the story though. It was all a bit sudden and a shock, but it make me take a bit more notice. Maybe things *can* happen! Then the story around the oldest Whitshank was a lot more engaging, if a little bit on the creepy side. It goes to show how family lore isn’t always entirely truthful.

Denny and Stem’s stories were fully explored. Stem isn’t really a Whitshank in the eyes of his brother, taken in as a small boy yet always seeming to be Red’s favourite. Denny’s clearly got some pent up jealousy and his acting out is explained by the end. But Stem’s childhood story was just peculiar, I’m not sure anyone would have got away with just taking in an orphan without reporting anything. And it’s just like he’s taken in and then his story ends; no explanation of him fitting into the family or otherwise.

A blood member of the Whitshank family, one of those enviable families that radiate clannishness and togetherness and just... specialness; but he trailed around their edges like a charity case.

Actually, there’s a fair few peculiar bits, some working better than others. I guess the point is this is what families are like. They all have their odd stories and scandals, conversations that are out of place and people coming and going. There are some great little anecdotes here and there that do really shine through.

There is a lot about the house, which was a symbol of the grandfather moving up in the world. It was the house he built even if it was for someone else. It was a life he aspired to, even if he never quite fitted. However, as someone currently in the process of buying their first house in an over-priced market, the house irritated me a bit. They took this huge, luxurious house for granted. And I’m unsure how the grandfather really rose from his poverty to being able to buy such a thing. I guess it’s all about the American Dream, something that I often don’t quite get when it’s a theme in books.

Plenty of people have told me this is quite a typical example of Anne Tyler’s work, so if you’ve read her already, you’ll know what to expect. Something about it to me came across as dated, maybe the lack of technology in general made it feel like it was all set in a different time rather than across a whole century.

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is something I remember from my childhood but I was never quite sure if I had actually read it before. Had it been read to me? Or had I merely conflagrated the adaptation with the book? Who knows, but I did thoroughly enjoy reading it as last month’s classic.

First published in 1962, it was originally intended as a bit of a spoof of the gothic Victorian adventures Joan Aiken read as a child. Knowing this makes me like it even more. It’s loads of fun, with adventure, danger and plenty of funny bits. There’s one bit on the train which really makes me think J.K. Rowling had been inspired by these books too, though turns out the mysterious man isn’t quite as nice as Professor Lupin.

It’s set in an alternate version in 1830’s England, where the channel tunnel was built much earlier and meant Britain became overrun with wolves. These wolves don’t keep to themselves either, and it’s bad news to be out in the countryside after dark.

Bonnie’s mother is sickly and her father, Sir Willoughby, is taking her off on a cruise for health, leaving Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia in the care of their sinister new governess, Miss Slighcarp. As soon as the parents are out the door, things start to change. Bonnie is locked in a cupboard and all the faithful servants are fired. There’s definitely something amiss but can Bonnie and Sylvia save their home?

Amongst the frivolities, there are hints at the poverty and cruelty that once were common place. Sylvia’s mother is struggling to make ends meet when she sends her daughter to Willoughby Hall, although Bonnie is oblivious. They find themselves at the mercy of uncaring staff and fall even further in grace when their world is pulled out from under them.

There are a number of other books in the series, all set in the same alternate history however I’m not sure all the characters are the same in each. I’d definitely give another a try if I was in the mood for a fun and easy read.

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Also reviewed @ Pretty Books

Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 7 March 2016

World Book Day Offerings from Rainbow Rowell and Juno Dawson

For those that don’t know, World Book Day is the kids’ version of World Book Night and with it comes a fantastic array of £1 books aimed at younger readers. School children will have received their vouchers to claim one of these books for free, but if you’re a grown up, you can grab the ebook versions off the usual suspects.

This year’s offerings included novellas by Rainbow Rowell and Juno Dawson. Rainbow’s book, Kindred Spirits, follows Elena as she joins The Line for the new Star Wars movie. Turns out the line is only three people long and she really does have a weak bladder. The story spans over 4 days of queuing and sleeping rough, for a film you can buy tickets for online, but that’s not the point. It’s a cute celebration of fandom and nerdiness, and also touches a little on the feelings of both sides when it comes to the subject of “fake geek girls”.

Juno’s book, Spot the Difference, is about an important subject for teens that often gets overlooked in fiction; acne. It’s something that so many of us go through yet characters in books have great skin, the most they get seems to be an odd spot. Avery has severe acne, so much so that she’s been seeing a specialist about it for years. Her mum’s been holding out putting her on medication due to side effects, but there’s a new drug trial on the horizon. What happens when Avery is freed from her skin?

It’s not as shallow as it seems because, of course, Avery learns an important lesson. But your appearance is something that affects you a whole lot, even if deep down we know it shouldn’t. Plus Juno gives you a great World Book Day costume for future years in the finale!

Both these books are definitely worth a read if you’re a fan of either writer. They’re short but they don’t feel too short, and they get their message across at the same time as being entertaining. If you’re not an ebook convert you should also be able to pick up paperbacks in your local bookshop or online.

Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 6 March 2016

This is Where the World Ends

Janie and Micah have been friends forever, their bedroom windows opposite each other. Yet Janie’s friendship doesn’t extend to school where keeping up appearances means she barely acknowledges Micah. When her family moves to the other side of town, they can see their world slipping and then one day Janie disappears. Micah wakes up in hospital and can’t remember what happened. She wouldn’t have left him, would she?

Amy Zhang’s writing is beautiful, poetic and emotional. I love reading her words even if the plot feels a bit meandering. Broken down to the main points, This is Where the World Ends probably sounds quite clichéd and predictable, but it was still a pleasure to read.

Janie is manipulates her friendships with Micah. We probably wouldn’t like to admit it, but her behaviour probably isn’t all that unusual. I bet loads of people had childhood friends who they love but don’t want to be seen with at school. The fact that she doesn’t completely dump him means that she does care, deep down at least, and her journal entries reflects that.

Like many high school stories, it’s about trying to stay on top of the social hierarchy. When something awful happens, Janie feels she has no choice other than bury it. The fairy tales she writes for her English project portray what she really feels.

The Metaphor, which Janie decides is a metaphor for their life, is a pile of rocks in the quarry where she and Micah meet. You keep trying to climb to the top but, the harder you try, the further you fall. As the story continues, the Metaphor grows smaller.

The story feels like it is mostly told by Micah but the narrative is split between them, slowly revealing what happened and getting to see Janie’s side of the story. Because there’s always two sides to a story, however much you want to side with one person. Despite how much I may have disliked Janie’s behaviour, my heart broke for both of them.

This is Where the World Ends will be available in the UK via HarperCollins 360 with an early digital release on 22nd March 2016 and the paperback following on 21st April 2016. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The Month That Was... February 2016

It was great to meet some bloggers last month on the London Bookshop Crawl and I've even managed to read some of the books I bought already! I've read my challenge books for February; Modern Romance (non-fiction), The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (classic) and Through the Woods (graphic novel) but still need to get round to writing about two of them. Blogging has been much slower lately and probably will be for a while. The faster we can find a house to buy the faster I can go back to reading and blogging.

No giveaway this month though I'm thinking about what I can do for my 5 year blogoversary.

Here's what made it onto the blog...

Book of the Month:
The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor