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.

Favourites Friday #12: Banned Books Edition – Slaughterhouse-Five

Red Epic Reads Badge

Banned Books Week was launched throughout America in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982. According to the American Library Association, there were 464 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, and many more go unreported.

The 10 most challenged titles of 2012 were:

1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey (Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group)

2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie (Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group)

3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher (Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group)

4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James. (Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit)

5. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. (Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group)

6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. (Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit)

7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green. (Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group)

8. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz (Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence)

9. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls (Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit)

10. Beloved, by Toni Morrison (Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence)

In the UK public libraries are free from censorship, but there is always talk surrounding school reading criteria and censoring/banning books from school libraries so I still find the idea of Banned Books week important.

There is a really interesting list of famous/popular books (From the Canterbury Tales to Carrie) that have been banned around the world and why here.

Two of my favourite books of all time are on that list, Slaughterhouse-Five and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Today my spotlight is on Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

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Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.

I love EVERYTHING about this book. It is an anti-war commentary masking as a pretty insane Science Fiction story and it’s probably the most powerful piece of fiction I have ever read. READ IT. NOW!

Sources: Epic Reads, Banned Books.org.uk and as ever, Goodreads.

Favourites Friday #11: Peter Pan (curse you, Peter!)

Peter Pan was probably the first book I really loved and I generally read it at least once a year. I don’t even know what it is that I love about it so much, it’s just such a comforting read. It warms me up in winter.

A few years ago the lovely Dianne over at Icefloe gave me this amazing copy for my birthday (or maybe Christmas) and I love love love it.

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We are also both big fans of the 2003 live action adaptation mainly because Jeremy Sumpter is the perfect Peter and nailed the arrogant ‘oh the cleverness of me’ side to the character. Leading to the inscription below which cracks me up every time I see it.

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Curse you Peter. You totally led poor Wendy on. And put some clothes on!

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Favourites Friday #10: Open (Just Look at Those Sad, Sad Eyes!)

In honor of the US Open which I’ve lost many hours to this last week and a half, my favourites choice for today is pretty different to any of my other picks!

Click to view on Goodreads

Click to view on Goodreads

I don’t read many auto-biographies but this is my absolute favourite. I was a huge fan of Agassi growing up and JUST LOOK AT HIS SAD EYES. Don’t you want to give him a hug?

The great thing about this book isn’t the revelations of him taking Crystal Meth or wearing a hair-piece it’s his brutal descriptions of some of the best/worst matches of his life. They are written like battle diaries; playing with injury on top of injury; through excruciating pain but doing anything in your power to win. I’m not sure if you’ll feel the same if you’re not a tennis fan, but Open is written beautifully and is a thrilling and heartbreaking read.

From Andre Agassi, one of the most beloved athletes in history and one of the most gifted men ever to step onto a tennis court, a beautiful, haunting autobiography.

Agassi’s incredibly rigorous training begins when he is just a child. By the age of thirteen, he is banished to a Florida tennis camp that feels like a prison camp. Lonely, scared, a ninth-grade dropout, he rebels in ways that will soon make him a 1980s icon. He dyes his hair, pierces his ears, dresses like a punk rocker. By the time he turns pro at sixteen, his new look promises to change tennis forever, as does his lightning-fast return.

And yet, despite his raw talent, he struggles early on. We feel his confusion as he loses to the world’s best, his greater confusion as he starts to win. After stumbling in three Grand Slam finals, Agassi shocks the world, and himself, by capturing the 1992 Wimbledon. Overnight he becomes a fan favorite and a media target.

Agassi brings a near-photographic memory to every pivotal match and every relationship. Never before has the inner game of tennis and the outer game of fame been so precisely limned. Alongside vivid portraits of rivals from several generations—Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer—Agassi gives unstinting accounts of his brief time with Barbra Streisand and his doomed marriage to Brooke Shields. He reveals a shattering loss of confidence. And he recounts his spectacular resurrection, a comeback climaxing with his epic run at the 1999 French Open and his march to become the oldest man ever ranked number one.

In clear, taut prose, Agassi evokes his loyal brother, his wise coach, his gentle trainer, all the people who help him regain his balance and find love at last with Stefanie Graf. Inspired by her quiet strength, he fights through crippling pain from a deteriorating spine to remain a dangerous opponent in the twenty-first and final year of his career. Entering his last tournament in 2006, he’s hailed for completing a stunning metamorphosis, from nonconformist to elder statesman, from dropout to education advocate. And still he’s not done. At a U.S. Open for the ages, he makes a courageous last stand, then delivers one of the most stirring farewells ever heard in a sporting arena.

With its breakneck tempo and raw candor, Open will be read and cherished for years. A treat for ardent fans, it will also captivate readers who know nothing about tennis. Like Agassi’s game, it sets a new standard for grace, style, speed, and power.