Monday, 28 September 2015
I know the old cliché is to 'never judge a book by its cover' buh a cover as gorgeous as this how could I possibly resist? The blurb then sealed the deal;
A dark and twisted Victorian melodrama, like Alice in Wonderland goes to Hell, from the author of The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath.
Two orphans, Pedrock and Boo Boo, are sent to live in the sinister village of Darkwound. There they meet and befriend the magical and dangerous Mr Loveheart and his neighbour, Professor Hummingbird, a recluse who collects rare butterflies. Little do they know that Professor Hummingbird has attracted the wrath of a demon named Mr Angelcakes.
One night, Mr Angelcakes visits Boo Boo and carves a butterfly onto her back. Boo Boo starts to metamorphose into a butterfly/human hybrid, and is kidnapped by Professor Hummingbird. When Mr Loveheart attempts to rescue her with the aid of Detective White and Constable Walnut, they too are turned into butterflies.
Caught between Professor Hummingbird and the demon Angelcakes, Loveheart finds himself entangled in a web much wider and darker than he could have imagined, and a plot that leads him right to the Prime Minister and even Queen Victoria herself…
The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl is a sort of sequel to 'The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath', true to form I haven't (yet) read that title but fortunately while it features some of the same characters (Loveheart, Detective White and Constable Walnut) it works just as well as a stand alone novel.
It's hard to write a normal review of this book because it isn't a normal book. The closest I think I can come to describe it is to think of Roald Dahl at his darkest, Alice in Wonderland, Hilaire Belloc and a bit of The League of Gentlemen all mixed together with cakes and body parts in a kaleidoscope. It's the most colourful, inventive and fun novel I've read for a long time. Mr Loveheart in particular is a complete delight of a character, Lord of the Underworld, a killer (but only of bad people) who decorates his garden with decapitated heads, and a lover of puddings,
'The tearooms appear! Manifest before me. A pot of tea and an enormous slab of chocolate cake will be mine, for I am a Prince of the Underworld, and I do love a moist piece of cake.'
Boo Boo is also a wonderful character, at first seemingly a Dickensian type orphan but after Mr Angelcakes visits her she is transformed into a deadly weapon who violently and gleefully dispatches her victims. And Loveheart and Boo Boo are the characters you'll be rooting for, evil Heap is something else again! The characters though aren't all there is to love here, the plot while outrageous and often laugh out loud funny is still a gripping and thrilling adventure.
The body count in The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl is high, blood flows freely, despite my comparison to Dahl this is not a book for young children. Yet it's still a fantastical story, a nod to the brutality of fairy tales of old and Victorian melodramas while remaining fresh and playful throughout. I loved every mad moment.
Many thanks for my ARC of The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl by Ishbelle Bee received from the publishers, Angry Robot Books through NetGalley in return for my honest review.
Thursday, 10 September 2015
The Seed Collectors is centered on the Gardener family, the dysfunctional offspring of botanists who went missing years ago searching for mysterious seed-pods that have mystical but fatal powers. Named after plants - Fleur, Plum, Clem, Bryony etc - the book follows them after the death of Great Aunt Oleander, and after they are left the aforementioned seed pods in her will. Naturally in a family drama there are dark secrets to be uncovered but there is also sharp humour and a lot of sex, frequently quite brutal and loveless, and usually of the illicit kind.
I finished The Seed Collectors a few weeks ago but have put off writing a review because I'm still not really how I felt about it. I disliked the characters, any sympathy I briefly felt for a character could easily dissipate in a subsequent chapter . but that in itself isn't enough to put me off a book, I've enjoyed plenty of novels where I wouldn't want to know the characters in real life. There were parts I really liked, it's a funny, ambitious and beautifully written tale. The plot meanders between characters, there isn't a sole focus to the book, each chapter is from a different viewpoint, even from that of a robin in the garden. While I appreciated the skill involved in weaving the story I did find it all a bit disjointed, and missed the flow of a book that follows a less fragmented path. I found it was a book that I could become distracted from, there are some books that pull me in and I lose myself in. The Seed Collectors wasn't like that, I could read a chapter and love the writing but then with the abrupt change of focus lose interest and end up putting the book down for a few days.
I don't want this to be a negative review because I do think it's a beautifully written novel with some truly thought- provoking parts, it perhaps wasn't the book for me but I can admire and appreciate it nevertheless.
Thanks to the publishers, Canongate for my copy received through NetGalley in return for my unbiased review.
Wednesday, 9 September 2015
Not everyone has to be the Chosen One is the premise of Patrick Ness' latest YA novel. Instead of focusing on the likes of Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is about ordinary teens who are more concerned with getting through day to day life than with saving their school.
Each chapter begins with a short paragraph outlining what the indie kids - the Finns, Satchels and Kerouacs - are dealing with. They are up against The Immortals and it's a life or death battle. We are just given a glimpse of this though as the real story is about Mikey, his sister, Mel, their friends Henna and Jared and new boy, Nathan. Occasionally their lives clash with the indie kids but they are content to let them deal with whatever the latest threat is while they contend with their own battles - OCD, anorexia, love, anxiety, parents...
The Rest of Us Live Here though is not an issues book. Mikey is struggling to cope with his compulsions but they are not all his character is. The book is more nuanced than that, it's moving and perceptive but also funny and clearly affectionate about books featuring One True Hero.
Ultimately I think it's Patrick Ness' love letter to young people. It's telling them they are important, that feeling insignificant doesn't mean they are insignificant and their problems may not be the sort that risk the lives of all humankind but they still matter. It's saying that adults remember more than teenagers might think but have also probably forgotten more than they (the adults) realise and most importantly it's a reassurance that things don't have to stay the same. Things will change, it can get better, not in a patronising "and they all lived happily ever after" type way but hang in there, it won't always feel like this.
Not everyone has to be the Chosen One but (and I apologise in advance for this pun) I hope this book is one chosen by many people. (I'll get my coat now, you go and buy the book.)
The Rest of Us Just Live Here is published in the UK by Walker Books