Festive favourites #1: Christmas Stories by Charles Dickens

I rescued this book from my parents attic a few years back. When I say rescued I mean borrowed. When I say borrowed, I mean stole. I don’t really remember being read it, but I do remember the cover and the smell of it. It’s one of my favourite books on my shelves.

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Synopsis:
“A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and The Cricket on the Hearth” contains three of Charles Dickens most popular Christmas-time stories. In “A Christmas Carol” we have the classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly old man who is visited by ghosts prior to Christmas to show him the error of his ways. In “The Chimes” we have the story of Toby Veck, a poor working-class man who has lost his faith in human nature. On New Year’s Eve he is visited by spirits who show him that nobody is born evil, but rather that crime and poverty are constructs of man. In “The Cricket on the Hearth” we have the story of John Peerybingle and his family who have a guardian angel in the form of a cricket who is constantly chirping on the hearth. These classic holiday tales will delight readers of all ages.

Favourites Friday #18 :The Magician’s Nephew by C. S Lewis

Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S Lewis so what better day to do a Narnia FF post. I’ve loved the Narnia books ever since I saw the BBC’s adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (yes I saw it before I read the books cut me some slack, I was like 8!) and immediately begged for the books.

As much as I love The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, it’s always between The Magician’s Nephew and The Horse and His Boy for my ultimate favourite.

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to go for The Magician’s Nephew simply because you get to see the creation of Narnia itself.

The Magician’s Nephew was actually the 6th book in the series that Lewis wrote but was a prequel to the rest. In modern editions, the books are sequenced according to Narnian History and so The Magician’s Nephew is usually listed as book one.

narnia I’ll always remember the first time I read this; I was amazed by the Wood Between Worlds. It’s quite a bit darker than some of the other books (Uncle Andrew is proper sinister), and the idea of being able to visit different worlds – some nicer than others – by going through the different puddles is pretty awesome. Also, watch out for “Queen” Jadis. You aint no Queen of Narnia!

Synopsis:
When Digory and Polly are tricked by Digory’s peculiar Uncle Andrew into becoming part of an experiment, they set off on the adventure of a lifetime. What happens to the children when they touch Uncle Andrew’s magic rings is far beyond anything even the old magician could have imagined.
Hurtled into the Wood between the Worlds, the children soon find that they can enter many worlds through the mysterious pools there. In one world they encounter the evil Queen Jadis, who wreaks havoc in the streets of London when she is accidentally brought back with them. When they finally manage to pull her out of London, unintentionally taking along Uncle Andrew and a coachman with his horse, they find themselves in what will come to be known as the land of Narnia.

Favourites Friday #17: The Book Of Lost Things by John Connolly

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This one of my favourite books to read in the winter. It is a dark reimagining and fusion of various fairy tales and the whole thing is just a bit sinister yet magical! Plus how epic is that cover!?

There’s Wolf-men, trolls, slutty Red-riding Hood and evil Snow White, a girl in a jar, a great villian in The Crooked Man and a whole lot more.

Goodreads Synopsis:
High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own — populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things.
Taking readers on a vivid journey through the loss of innocence into adulthood and beyond, New York Times bestselling author John Connolly tells a dark and compelling tale that reminds us of the enduring power of stories in our lives.

What People Are Saying About The Book of Lost Things:

This was one of the best books i’ve read in a long while. every single page was amazing…the characters rich and full of life.

Beth Anne (Goodreads)

“The Book Of Lost Things” can at times be extremely violent as Connolly seems to enjoy twisting and taking apart various fairy tales.

Brandon (Goodreads)

John Connolly, a Dubliner, is best known – celebrated, indeed – in America, where he sets his supernatural crime fiction. Evidently The Book of Lost Things represents a major departure for him, and Heaven forbid we should discourage ambition. His publisher claims it’s “a novel to transcend genre”: positive spin for what a less partial commentator might call uncertainty of address. Who is this book for? Generic boy hero, schematic adventure plot, heavy-handed explicatory narrative tone: all would try the patience of any reader no longer juvenile. Yet the material is as grim as Connolly’s customary horrific fare. The torture chambers, martial dismemberments and surgical miscegenations, the continual nervous drift towards themes of sexual corruption: all firmly indicate adults only.

Colin Greenland (The Guardian)

Favourites Friday #16 (Horror October Edition): Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite

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I first read this book when I was maybe about 15, and I’d never read, or imagined I would read anything quite like it. There’s gay sex (shock horror!), cannibalism, necrophilia and a whole lot of gore & death. But there’s something of substance here too.

Brite has this great way of vividly encapsulating a certain time and place. Exquisite Corpse deals with the aftermath of the AIDS breakout and the hopelessness felt by the young gay community in New Orleans. Brite writes for a generation, and it’s stayed with me the same way as my own teenage years have.

You’ve probably heard that this love story about two cannibalistic serial killers (loosely modeled after Dennis Nilsen and Jeffrey Dahmer) is over the top. You’ve been warned about the lovingly meticulous descriptions of murder and necrophilia. But the novel also features a keen look at the AIDS plague, in a setting almost worth dying for: Brite’s doomed aesthetes dance in a sweet, heady New Orleans of milky coffee and beignets, alligators, Billy Holiday tunes, scented candles, pirate radio, swamp French, andouille sausage and one bar for every 175 people. And the structure is the tightest of Brite’s books so far”. (From Goodreads)

Full Synopsis:

To serial slayer Andrew Compton, murder is an art, the most intimate art. After feigning his own death to escape from prison, Compton makes his way to the United States with the sole ambition of bringing his “art” to new heights. Tortured by his own perverse desires, and drawn to possess and destroy young boys, Compton inadvertently joins forces with Jay Byrne, a dissolute playboy who has pushed his “art” to limits even Compton hadn’t previously imagined. Together, Compton and Byrne set their sights on an exquisite young Vietnamese-American runaway, Tran, whom they deem to be the perfect victim.

Swiftly moving from the grimy streets of London’s Piccadilly Circus to the decadence of the New Orleans French Quarter, and punctuated by rants from radio talk show host Lush Rimbaud, a.k.a. Luke Ransom, Tran’s ex-lover, who is dying of AIDS and who intends to wreak ultimate havoc before leaving this world, Exquisite Corpse unfolds into a labyrinth of murder and love. Ultimately all four characters converge on a singular bloody night after which their lives will be irrevocably changed — or terminated.

Oh, and I’m still totally in love with Tran!

Favourites Friday #15 (Horror October Edition): The Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliott

Now, I don’t know about you, but clowns freak me the hell out. Whether it’s Pennywise or Ronald McDonald..they are just not right. So naturally, I seem to think it’s a good idea to read books about evil clowns, because I’m weird like that.

I don’t think this book is very well known, but whenever I think of freaky books it always stands out for me. If you want a creepy but fun Halloween read I definitely recommend it.

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You have two days to pass your audition. You better pass it, feller. You’re joining the circus. Ain’t that the best news you ever got?” Delivered by a trio of psychotic clowns, this ultimatum plunges Jamie into the horrific alternate universe that is the centuries-old Pilo Family Circus, a borderline world between Hell and Earth from which humankind’s greatest tragedies have been perpetrated. Yet in this place—peopled by the gruesome, grotesque, and monstrous—where violence and savagery are the norm, Jamie finds that his worst enemy is himself. When he applies the white face paint, he is transformed into JJ, the most vicious clown of all. And JJ wants Jamie dead! Echoes of Lovecraft, Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk, and early Stephen King resound through the pages of this magical, gleefully macabre work nominated as Best Novel by the International Horror Guild.

What People Are Saying About The Pilo Family Circus:

What a wicked, intoxicating combination of weird, creepy, horrific and funny; the last thing I expected when I picked up this book was to laugh my ass off in parts, doing so was such a bonus.

– Trudi (Gooodreads)

Will Elliot’s debut novel is a horror story that will make you wary of carnivals and the nefarious creatures who lurk within.

– Sarah (Goodreads)

Will Elliott’s first novel taps into an established tradition born out of coulrophobia, or fear of clowns. From the murderous jester of commedia dell’ arte to the sadistic Pennywise in Stephen King’s It, the masked man with the false grin is both a reliable bogey man and a subversive social critic. Elliott’s clowns are as unnerving as they come, but their weirdness is more than just an act: this particular circus has pitched its tent in the underworld.

The Guardian

Just beware of the Northampton Clown!

Favourites Friday #14 (Horror October Edition): My Favourite Poe

The Raven is without a doubt my favourite Poe.

What I can’t decide on, is my favourite reading of it. For years it has been the Vincent Price one, despite the bad quality of the video. But there’s a lot to be said about Christopher Lee’s eerie reading too.

So treat yourself to a pre-halloween midnight visit from the mysterious raven. Close the curtains, light a candle and enjoy one of these videos, or even both.

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe was first published in January 1845.

I found this 1987 collection of Poe’s short stories in a charity shop many moons ago. It introduced me to a few stories that I’d never read before such as The Fall of the House of Usher and Landor’s Cottage.

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What’s your favourite Poe?

Favourites Friday #13 (Horror October Edition): The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom

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It was expecting them.

Conrad and Joanna Harrison, a young couple from Los Angeles, attempt to save their marriage by leaving the pressures of the city to start anew in a quiet, rural setting. They buy a Victorian mansion that once served as a haven for unwed mothers, called a birthing house. One day when Joanna is away, the previous owner visits Conrad to bequeath a vital piece of the house’s historic heritage, a photo album that he claims “belongs to the house.” Thumbing through the old, sepia-colored photographs of midwives and fearful, unhappily pregnant girls in their starched, nineteenth-century dresses, Conrad is suddenly chilled to the bone: staring back at him with a countenance of hatred and rage is the image of his own wife….

Thus begins a story of possession, sexual obsession, and, ultimately, murder, as a centuries-old crime is reenacted in the present, turning Conrad and Joanna’s American dream into a relentless nightmare.

An extraordinary marriage of supernatural thrills and exquisite psychological suspense, The Birthing House marks the debut of a writer whose first novel is a terrifying tour de force.

OK, so I’ve only just seen what a bad average rating this book has on Goodreads and I haven’t read it since it came out in 2009 but I’ve wanted to read it again ever since. I think the main thing I liked about this book was that it pays homage to the great haunted house/ posession films that I grew up on like The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist and added a better back story.

Despite being a bit of a tool, I liked Conrad as the protagonist and when the shit starts to hit the fan I felt sorry for him, knowing that there was no way he was gonna get out that house unscathed. Nadia, the seductive and down-right odd teenager next door, the crying babies at night and the proper weird stick-doll thing which may or may not be a figment of Conrad’s fucked up imagination, all worked for me.

It was a little bit horror-by-numbers, but for a debut novel I thought Ransom did a good job. The Birthing House was a quick, atmospheric read with just enough creep-factor to satisfy my creepiness.