Lazy Saturday Review(s): A few that got away…

I’ve fallen behind of late, so before I completely forget about these books I thought I’d do a quick catch-up in the shape of some teeny tiny reviews.

testimony
Title: The Testimony of the Hanged Man
Author: Ann Granger
Series: Lizzie Martin #5
Edition: Paperback, 400 pages
Publication Details: July 3rd 2014 by Headline
Genre(s): Mystery; Historical Fiction
Disclosure? Nope, I borrowed it!

Goodreads // Purchase

A hanged man would say anything to save his life. But what if his testimony is true? When Inspector Ben Ross is called to Newgate Prison by a man condemned to die by the hangman’s noose he isn’t expecting to give any credence to the man’s testimony. But the account of a murder he witnessed over seventeen years ago is so utterly believeable that Ben can’t help wondering if what he’s heard is true. It’s too late to save the man’s life, but it’s not too late to investigate a murder that has gone undetected for all these years.

Review

I initially picked this book up because it’s set partly on Putney Heath, which is where I lived when I was at uni. I like reading about places I know well, to see how the author portrays them, especially in another era. The Testimony of the Hanged Man is set in Victorian London, and is a classic mystery which unfolds at a slow pace.

I think if I read it all in one go, I would have enjoyed it more, but I only managed a few pages at a time. However, I still enjoyed it – and despite my pet peeve of alternating narrators too.

If you like traditional, light-hearted, Victorian detective fiction, give this series a go.

unicorn rating 3

kisskiss

Title: Kiss Kiss
Author: Roald Dahl
Series: N/A
Edition: Paperback, 231 pages
Publication Details: October 26th 1987 by Penguin Books
Genre(s): Short Stories
Disclosure? Nope, I borrowed it!

Goodreads // Purchase

In these wickedly anarchic stories, Dahl explores the dark, sinister side of the psyche: the cunning, sly, selfish part of human nature that makes for unexpected outcomes and horrifying conclusions.

Review

I’ve wanted to read some of Dahl’s adult fiction for ages so I picked this up for my lunch-time read when I spotted it in the library. I read most of the stories in this collection, and came out with mixed feelings. The collection was first published in 1959, and you can tell; it hasn’t aged well.

The stories are not what I would call anarchic or horrifying in today’s meaning of the terms, but they were interesting, funny and slightly odd – as you would expect from Roald Dahl. I enjoyed Mrs Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat the most.

unicorn rating 3

badjelly
Title: Badjelly the Witch
Author: Spike Milligan
Series: N/A
Edition: Hardback, 64 pages
Publication Details: October 19th 2000 by Virgin Books (first published 1973)
Genre(s): Children’s; Picture Books
Disclosure? Nope, I borrowed it.

Goodreads // Purchase

Badjelly The Witch can turn children into sausages or chop them up to make boy-girl soup. She can turn policemen into apple trees or bananas into mice and she is the wickedest witch in all the world.

A charming fairy tale which has delighted children for many years, this edition is copiously illustrated with Spike Milligan’s own drawings which have been specially adapted and beautifully hand coloured.

Review

Spike Milligan’s Silly Verse for Kids was one of my favourite books when I was little, but I never read this one. I’m so glad I eventually got round to reading it! It’s exactly as bonkers as you’d expect – loved it!

Definitely a fun, wacky book to read to young children.

unicorn rating 4

When Mystical Creatures Attack by Kathleen Founds

netg3
Title: When Mystical Creatures Attack!
Author: Kathleen Founds
Series: N/A
Edition: Digital Reader’s Copy, 206 pages
Publication Details: October 1st 2014 by University Of Iowa Press
Genre(s): Short Stories; Fantasy
Disclosure? Yep! I received a copy from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Goodreads // Purchase

In When Mystical Creatures Attack!, Ms. Freedman’s high school English class writes essays in which mystical creatures resolve the greatest sociopolitical problems of our time. Students include Janice Gibbs, “a feral child with excessive eyeliner and an anti-authoritarian complex that would be interesting were it not so ill-informed,” and Cody Splunk, an aspiring writer working on a time machine. Following a nervous breakdown, Ms. Freedman corresponds with Janice and Cody from an insane asylum run on the capitalist model of cognitive-behavioral therapy, where inmates practice water aerobics to rebuild their Psychiatric Credit Scores.

The lives of Janice, Cody, and Ms. Freedman are revealed through in-class essays, letters, therapeutic journal exercises, an advice column, a reality show television transcript, a diary, and a Methodist women’s fundraising cookbook. (Recipes include “Dark Night of the Soul Food,” “Render Unto Caesar Salad,” and “Valley of the Shadow of Death by Chocolate Cake.”) In “Virtue of the Month,” the ghost of Ms. Freedman’s mother argues that suicide is not a choice. In “The Un-Game,” Janice’s chain-smoking nursing home charge composes a dirty limerick. In “The Hall of Old-Testament Miracles,” wax figures of Bible characters come to life, hungry for Cody’s flesh.

Set against a South Texas landscape where cicadas hum and the air smells of taco stands and jasmine flowers, these stories range from laugh-out-loud funny to achingly poignant. This surreal, exuberant collection mines the dark recesses of the soul while illuminating the human heart.

Review

I can honestly say this was one the strangest things I’ve ever read. And I usually like strange, but for some reason I couldn’t get on board with this.

The book begins with a series of short stories/essays in which students use all manner of mystical and mythological creatures to solve the world’s problems. They are sometimes funny, and always bizarre, but none of them really worked for me. I don’t think I quite got the point 😦

We soon learn that the school teacher, Mrs Freedman, has been admitted to an insane asylum and through letters from two of the students we follow their lives, and the impact that the teacher’s incarceration has had on them.

This part of the book I enjoyed more, but again, I wasn’t gripped. It was very fantastical and unfortunately I couldn’t get into it. The story is revealed through many different mediums; short stories, advice columns, diary entries and it made the book feel very disjointed to me. There was just too much going on.

I thought this was a huge shame, because I think the idea is very unique and could have been great. There was just nothing that made me want to keep reading. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood for something so different, I don’t know.

What I would say, is that if you’re a fan of the short story format, and want to try something a bit different, this may be the book for you. I thought it was a very ambitious book, even if it didn’t work for me. I certainly wouldn’t write it off.

unicorn rating 2

Book Promo: Dumped ~ Stories of Women Unfriending Women

Dumped book cover

Title: Dumped; Stories of Women Unfriending Women

Author: Edited by Nina Gaby

Genre: Non-Fiction; Anthology

Publication Details: March 3rd 2015 by She Writes Press

Amazon // Goodreads

About the Book

Getting dumped sucks—and no, we don’t mean by a significant other. We’re talking about the atom bomb of abandonment: Getting dumped by a best friend. Millions of women who know the universally-experienced-but-rarely-discussed trauma of being dumped by a close female friend can relate to the candid stories in Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women.

Twenty-five celebrated writers—including Jacquelyn Mitchard, Ann Hood, Carrie Kabak, Jessica Handler, Elizabeth Searle, Alexis Paige, and editor Nina Gaby—explore the fragile, sometimes humorous, and often unfathomable nature of lost friendship.

The essays in Dumped aren’t stories of friendship dying a mutually agreed-upon death, like falling out of touch. These are stories of suddenly finding yourself erased, without context or warning. There should be an Adele song for this—and now, the millions of women who have cried over the inexplicable loss of a friendship can bond over the raw, charming, funny, and soulbaring stories of women who know how they feel.

From teenagers to soccer moms, teachers to friends, Dumped is for women who enjoy Bridesmaids as much as Little Women, or HBO’s Girls as much Anne Lamott and Alice Munro. It will make women ages 16-70 smile, cry, laugh, and best of all, say “Me too!” as they learn that being Dumped by a close friend doesn’t mean going it alone.

Meet the Editor

ninagaby
NINA GABY is a writer, widely shown visual artist, and psychiatric nurse practitioner whose essays
and fiction have been published by Lilith Magazine, Creative Non Fiction’s In Fact imprint, Seal Press,
Paper Journey Press, Wising-Up Press, The Prose-Poem Project
, and on Brevity.com.

What People Are Saying About ‘Dumped’

Brilliant, charming, heartbreaking, truth-telling, soul-baring, extraordinary…I defy any woman
not to identify with at least one of these stories.”

—Amy Ferris, author of Marrying George Clooney and co-editor of Dancing at the Shame Prom

Links

Goodreads
Contact the Publicist
Facebook
Twitter

Printer’s Devil Court by Susan Hill

new1
Title: Printer’s Devil Court
Author: Susan Hill
Series: N/A
Edition: Hardback, 128 pages
Publication Details: September 25th 2014 by Profile Books
Genre(s): Horror
Disclosure? Nope! I bought it.

Goodreads
Purchase

A mysterious manuscript lands on the desk of the step-son of the late Dr Hugh Meredith, a country doctor with a prosperous and peaceful practice in a small English town. From the written account he has left behind, however, we learn that Meredith was haunted by events that took place years before, during his training as a junior doctor near London’s Fleet Street, in a neighbourhood virtually unchanged since Dickens’s times.

Living then in rented digs, Meredith gets to know two other young medics, who have been carrying out audacious and terrifying research and experiments. Now they need the help of another who must be a doctor capable of total discretion and strong nerves.

‘Remember that what you know you can never un-know. If you are afraid, then…’

Review

Printer’s Devil Court is a short novella from acclaimed horror writer Susan Hill. I’ve enjoyed a lot of Susan Hill’s books over the years, and this one was no exception, but I can’t help just wanting to talk about how pretty this edition is. It’s really stunning with its embossed dark red dust jacket. I love it!

The story is deserving of such a beautiful cover too, which is always good.

As with many of Susan Hill’s ghost stories, this one is set in the Victorian era and is instantly chilling and atmospheric.

It follows an ambitious young doctor and his medical student friends who share a house in Printer’s Devil Court. Unbeknownst to our protagonist-and all-round-good-guy Hugh Meredith, he swears himself to secrecy and is embroiled in some unsavoury experiments on the dead. In turn, he finds himself being haunted by one of the experiments gone wrong.

I love the way Susan Hill creates spooky atmospheres in her books, and in this one we are taken through dark, isolated streets and foggy cemeteries as we weave our way through the nitty-gritty of the story.

I’m not usually a huge fan of stories as short as this, but I think it really works for ghost stories. They don’t need to be drawn out so much as long as the spooky elements are built up well, and Susan Hill is a genius at that.

I thought this was an absolute perfect read for a dark and stormy night.

unicorn rating 4

Printer’s Devil Court is available to buy here from Waterstones where you can also download a preview.

Zombies Vs Unicorns…if only it were that simple!

A Short Story Collection Edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

zomIt’s a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths–for good and evil–of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?

For me, the question of who is better Zombies or Unicorns is pretty ridiculous. I’m fairly renowned for my obsession love of unicorns so when I found out that Holly Black had compiled this collection of short stories I had to put it on my wishlist, even though I’m not a huge fan of the short story.

There were a lot of things I liked about this book, the set up for one. Holly Black is in charge of Team Unicorn (Yesssss) and Justine Larbalestier, Team Zombie (Boooooo). The stories are alternated between TU and TZ and have a little introduction (sometimes more like a pep rally cheer) by each respective Team Leader followed by a rebuttal from the opposing team. At first I found this a bit too kitsch. It felt like two friends playing up to a crowd. Oh aren’t we funny, how we love to bicker with each other…that kind of thing. But I warmed to them eventually. If you can’t beat them, join them, right!?

And the collection itself? It was definitely a mixed bag for me, as most short story collections are, and it really, really pains me to say that I found myself enjoying the zombie stories more than the unicorn ones. In fact, it really made me want to write a good unicorn story to prove that it’s possible.

That might be a bit harsh, they weren’t all bad. I really enjoyed The Care and Feeding of Your Killer Baby Unicorn by Diana Peterfreund – a spin-off to her Killer Unicorns series which I haven’t read but want to now. In Peterfreund’s stories ‘real unicorns are man eating beasts with razor sharp fangs and a fatal venom in their lethal horns. And they can only be killed by the virgin descendants of Alexander the Great’. Fun!

As for the Team Zombie stories, there were a few stand-outs but Maureen Johnson’s The Children of the Revolution was my favourite. A girl who had followed a boy out to England to pick berries all summer long finds herself needing to get away from him. Homeless and jobless, the perfect solution arises when she is offered the job of nannying the children of a Hollywood superstar. But of course, they are not normal children. Johnson totally nails the satire of the rich and the famous, and the celebrity in question bore more than a passing resemblance to Angelina Jolie. Picturing her amused me no end.

I also really enjoyed Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, a cute boy/boy zombie romance in a similar vein to Warm Bodies, and also Scott Westerfeld’s Inoculata which reminded me little bit of the film Stakeland, but with Zombies. See, there’s something for everyone!

Overall, I’m really glad I own this book, and not just because it looks pretty and sounds badass. I’d definitely like to revisit a few of these stories, and I feel like it’s getting me one step closer to embracing the medium of the short story.

I feel like maybe I should switch to a Zombie rating for this book, but alas, I cannot. Unicorns til I die!

unicorn rating 3

Disclosure?: Nope, it was a gift!
Title: Zombies Vs Unicorns
Author: Various
Details: Paperback, 418 pages
Published: April 3rd 2012 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
My Rating: 3/5