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REVIEW: AFTER DARK BY WILKIE COLLINS

after-dark-b2c18e 

AFTER DARK BY WILKIE COLLINS

EPUB BOOKS (E-BOOK), 2014

543 PAGES 

I downloaded this free e-book: HTTPS://WWW.EPUBBOOKS.COM/BOOK/842/AFTER-DARK 

BLURB FROM THE COVER 

A series of tales supposed to be told to a portrait-painter by his sitters; the framework tells us how he came to think of publishing the stories thus collected; the introductions describe the circumstances under which the tales were told. These portions have a delicate every-day interest. The tales are stories of adventure, well varied, and often striking in the incidents, or with thrilling situations; and are as pleasant reading as a novel reader could desire. 

EXTRACT 

LEAVES FROM LEAH’S DIARY. 

26th February, 1827.—The doctor has just called for the third time to examine my husband’s eyes. Thank God, there is no fear at present of my poor William losing his sight, provided he can be prevailed on to attend rigidly to the medical instructions for preserving it. These instructions, which forbid him to exercise his profession for the next six months at least, are, in our case, very hard to follow. They will but too probably sentence us to poverty, perhaps to actual want; but they must be borne resignedly, and even thankfully, seeing that my husband’s forced cessation from work will save him from the dreadful affliction of loss of sight. I think I can answer for my own cheerfulness and endurance, now that we know the worst. Can I answer for our children also? Surely I can, when there are only two of them. It is a sad confession to make, but now, for the first time since my marriage, I feel thankful that we have no more. 

REVIEW 

This was my first time reading Wilkie Collins. I really liked the way this collection was structured. Collins uses a story-within-a-story format. After Dark uses a framing story of an artist forced to take some time out because his eye-sight has been damaged. He uses this time to tell his wife some stories about his more interesting clients. The aim is to turn the stories into a book and get it published to make some money until his eyesight recovers. This frame worked really well. The stories varied from very good to just okay. I like the prologue Collins offers to each story as well. After Dark is a mixed collection. 

THE TRAVELER’S STORY OF A TERRIBLY STRANGE BED: I really enjoyed this story. Collins offers a mystery tale of a sinister plot in a remote inn to rob an innocent man of his extensive gambling wins. This story was well written and quite enjoyable. 

THE LAWYER’S STORY OF A STOLEN LETTER: Collins offers another enjoyable tale. This is also a mystery tale with some interesting twists. I thought this story was really well written. 

THE FRENCH GOVERNESS’S STORY OF SISTER ROSE: This was the weakest story in the collection. Collins takes us to the French Revolution. I found this story very long-winded and boring in some places. Nowhere near as good at the first two tales. 

THE ANGLER’S STORY of THE LADY OF GLENWITH GRANGE: Collins is back on form with this tale of secrecy, murder, intrigue and betrayal. I really liked this one. 

THE NUN’S STORY OF GABRIEL’S MARRIAGE: This was another slow tale that was dull in a few places. Not as good as other tales in the collection. 

THE PROFESSOR’S STORY OF THE YELLOW MASK: I also didn’t really enjoy this story and found it slow and tedious in places. 

RATING

3 STAR RATING

 
 

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REVIEW: JIGS & REELS BY JOANNE HARRIS

jigs

JIGS & REELS BY JOANNE HARRIS

BLACK SWAN BOOKS (PAPER BACK), 2005

299 PAGES 

WWW.JOANNE-HARRIS.CO.UK

WWW.JOANNE-HARRIS.CO.UK/BOOKS/JIGS-AND-REELS

BLURB FROM THE COVER

Take your partners, please.

Suburban witches, defiant old ladies, ageing monsters, suicidal Lottery winners, wolf men, dolphin women and middle-age manufacturers of erotic leatherwear: in Joanne Harris’s first collection of short stories the miraculous goes hand-in-hand with the mundane, the sour with the sweet, and the beautiful, the grotesque, the seductive and the disturbing are never more than one step away.

This is an eclectic collection of tales for our times that shows a side to Joanne Harris you have never seen before. So go on, be tempted. After all, it’s only dancing.

EXTRACT 

IT’S MONDAY, SO IT MUST BE RICE PUDDING AGAIN. IT’S NOT so much the fact that they’re careful of our teeth, here at the Meadowbank House, rather a general lack of imagination.  As I told Claire the other day, there are lots of things you can eat without having to chew. Oysters. Foie gras. Avocado vinaigrette. Strawberries and cream. Crème brûlée with vanilla and nutmeg. Why then this succession of bland puddings and gummy meats? Claire –the sulky blonde, always chewing a wad of gum – looked at me as if I was mad. God forbid our remaining taste buds should be overstimulated. I saw Hope grinning round the last mouthful of ocean pie, and I knew she’d heard me. Hope may be blind, but she’s no slouch.

 

FAITH AND HOPE GO SHOPPING

REVIEW 

I thought Jigs & Reels was a really enjoyable collection of short stories. The collection shows off Harris’s diversity as a writer. The tales in Jigs & Reels touch and the light and dark aspects of life and vary from the funny to the chilling. I also loved the fact Harris included a little note of each story’s origin.

FAITH AND HOPE GO SHOPPING: I love Faith and Hope. I’ve read other stories by Harris featuring these two feisty old women. I this story they escape the miserable nursing home where they live on go a spending spree in London. This story is funny and sort of sad at the same time.

THE UGLY SISTER: Another funny but sad at the time tale. This time Harris deals with washed-out pantomime stars in her wickedly funny version of Cinderella.

GASTRONOMICON: I loved this story. This tale is funny and creepy at the same time. Harris shows food in a sinister, unsettling light. This story is sort of hilarious.

FULE’S GOLD: I loved this story as well. Harris shows us the consequences of greed and jealously when a teacher plots to steal a pupil’s brilliant, original story and ends up scrabbling about in the show like a mad man when he loses it during a storm.

CLASS OF ’81: Harris offers another funny and sad tale. Class of ’81 is a high school reunion with a difference when a group of witches get back together years later and all their old rivalry and insecurities still exist. A great tale.

HELLO, GOODBYE: Harris offers a modern satire on the world’s obsession with beauty, fame and scandal. Another tale tinged with sadness. This time the setting is a celebrity funeral where the journalist for a glossy magazine is terrified her working class parents will expose her and force her to face her sister’s death. I loved the fact Harris doesn’t reveal the dead celebrity is the narrator’s sister until the end.

FREE SPIRIT: Harris offers a chilling, unsettling tale. I got a case of the creeps reading this one.

AUTO-DA-FE: Harris offers another chilling, unsettling tale. This time the subject matter is road rage. The main character becomes violence and dangerous behind the wheel of his beloved car. The end of the story hints at even darker events than road rage.

THE SPECTATOR: Harris offers another chilling tale set in the future. An old man likes to take a walk every day past the school he went to as a boy and watch the children playing. It makes him feel young again. His intentions are seen a sinister by the robots who are in charge of order and he’s taken away to prison. This story gave me the chills.

AL AND CHRISTINE’S WORLD OF LEATHER: Harris offers us a purely funny tale. A woman unwittingly enters into a business making leather bondage gear with hilarious consequences. There is a hint of sadness as well but the tale has a happy ending.

THE G-SUS GENE: Harris offers another schilling future tale. This was the weakest tale in the collection and I didn’t enjoy it as much as the others.

A PLACE IN THE SUN: Harris offers another chilling tale of the future. This time around the subject matter is the beach or rather society’s obsession with body beautiful and looking good on the beach. People are granted access to different beaches depending on how thin and attractive they are. The narrator is terrified of being downgraded to the All-Public beach.

TEA WITH THE BIRDS: This is rather, sweet touching tale of a woman who finds her mysterious Japanese neighbour and his early morning fruit and vegetable deliveries a nuisance until she discovers he has used the vegetables to create sculptures. When he moves away she reluctantly misses him.

BREAKFAST AT TESCO’S: Harris offers another butter-sweet tale. The main character is an old woman who has breakfast in the café at her local Tesco’s every day. She develops a close bond with Cheryl, the young woman who works there and tries to encourage her to end her abusive relationship. This tale is also tinged with sadness.

COME IN, MR LOWRY, YOUR NUMBER IS UP: This tale is quite dark and deals with a suicidal lottery winner. I thought this story was very sad.

WAITING FOR GANDALF: I thought this was a great story set in the world of action-adventure games. The main characters are villains and monster who are getting a bit long in the tooth struggling in a world populated by younger, less serious monsters.

ANY GIRL CAN BE A CANDYKISS GIRL: Harris offers another chilling and sinister tale with hints of child abuse and molestation. The hints are subtle but undeniable and this story gave me the chills.

THE LITTLE MERMAID: Harris offers her own version of this fairytale. The setting is a beach where physically disables sea creatures visit. Harris offers a sad tale of unrequited love and the length a dolphin girl is willing to go to catch the attention of the object of her affection.

FISH: Harris offers another creepy, quite sinister tale of a couple of honeymoon in Naples who discover paradise is not quite what they expected.

NEVER GIVE A SUCKER…: Harris offers another funny, satirical tale of a vampire well past his prime.

EAU DE TOILETTE: I thought this was another quite weak story, a satire about rich people and empty lives.

RATING

4 STAR RATING

 

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REVIEW: EIGHT MONTHS ON GHAZZAH STREET BY HILARY MANTEL

ghazza

EIGHT MONTHS ON GHAZZAH STREET BY HILARY MANTEL

4TH ESTATE (PAPER BACK), 1988

299 PAGES 

HTTP://EN.WIKIPEDIA.ORG/WIKI/EIGHT_MONTHS_ON_GHAZZAH_STREET

HTTP://WWW.HARPERCOLLINS.CO.UK/AUTHORS/3691/HILARY-MANTEL 

BLURB FROM THE COVER 

Frances Shore makes maps for her living, but when her husband’s work takes the couple of Saudi Arabia she’s lost within Jeddah’s ever-developing streets. The regime is corrupt and harsh, the cynical expatriates are money-grabbing and her warily curious Muslin neighbours remain mysterious. 

Confined to her flat, Frances hears whispers from the ‘empty’ apartment above her. With only rumours to go on, nothing relieved her creeping sense of unease. As the days empty of certainty and purpose, Frances’ life becomes a blank – waiting to be filled by violence and betrayal. 

EXTRACT 

‘Would you like champagne?’ 

This was the beginning; an hour or so out from Heathrow. Already it felt further; watches moved on, a day in a life condensed to a scramble at a check-in-desk, a walk to a departure gate; a day cut short and eclipsed, hurtling on into advancing night. And now the steward leaned over her, putting this question. 

REVIEW 

I really enjoyed Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, one of Mantel’s earliest novels. I’ve never read anything set in Saudi Arabia so I found it interesting to read about a culture and regime that is so different from what I know. I liked the contrasts between Western and Eastern culture Mantel offers in Eight Months on Ghazzah Street. Frances is horrified and fascinated in equal measures by life in the Kingdom especially the way women are treated. She is horrified to read about two Australian women, tourists who are raped in broad daylight in the souk. Frances’ Muslim neighbours believe the women asked for it because they wore shorts. She reads about women stoned to death for committing adultery. Yasmin, a neighbour tries to make her feel better by saying the women who commit adultery only have a few stones thrown at them before they are shot. This does not comfort Frances. I liked the way Mantel showed Frances’ increasing sense of isolation and fear. She is afraid to ask questions and not ask questions. She is afraid to leave her flat in case local men make lewd remarks but she feels suffocated being cooped up. She is afraid of unintentionally breaking a law or social etiquette and being arrested or stoned or executed. Her fears increase when the flat is broken into. Nothing of value is taken except some personal photos so she is convinced the break-in was some kind of message. Her conviction is increased when her husband’s co-worked is killed. Did he simply lose control of his car or is something much more sinister going on? I thought Eight Months on Ghazzah Street was great. 

RATING

4 STAR RATING

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2014 in Fiction, Hilary Mantel, Novel

 

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REVIEW: 11.22.63 BY STEPHEN KING

11 22 63

11.22.63 BY STEPHEN KING

HODDER & STOUGHTON (HARD BACK), 2011

740 PAGES 

HTTP://EN.WIKIPEDIA.ORG/WIKI/11/22/63

HTTP://STEPHENKING.COM 

BLURB FROM THE COVER 

Jake Epping is an English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine; who makes extra money teaching in an adult education programme. One day, he received an essay from one of his students – a harrowing first person story about the night, fifty years earlier, when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed Harry’s mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. 

Later, Jake’s friend, Al who runs the local diner, divulges an extraordinary secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake to an insane – and insanely possible – mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. 

Inspired by his desire to put things right for Harry Dunning, Jake leaves a world of iPods and mobile phones for a new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars, root beers and Lindy Hopping. It is a haunting world of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life – a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time. 

EXTRACT 

I have never been what you’d call a crying man. 

REVIEW 

This was my second read through of 11.22.63. I loved it even more this time around. 11.22.63 is a brilliant novel, brilliant. 11.22.63 is an example of how great King can be. I was sucked right into 11.22.63 from the start when Jake read’s Harry Dunning’s heart-breaking essay to the end when he dances with Sadie, now an old woman with white hair. One of my absolute favourite parts is when Jake meets Beverley Marsh and Richie Tozier from IT in his first trip to 1958. Jake meets them after the loser’s club believe they’ve killed the monster but Jake senses something is very wrong in Derry. There are some sad moments in 11.22.63 that brought tears to my eyes. When Sadie is attacked by her ex-husband. All of the factors that try to stop Jake from being at the Book Repository as Kennedy drives past. The moment Jake realises how much he fucked the world up by saving Kennedy and needs to travel back and re-set the clock and lose Sadie forever. I love the concept behind 11.22.63 and King executes it brilliantly. One of my favourite stories is A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury which deals with the consequences of screwing with the past. 11.22.63 is a similar story on a much larger scale. This is one of my favourite King novels and one of his best. 

RATING

5 STAR RATING

 

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REVIEW: BLACK BEAUTY BY ANNA SEWELL

BLACK BEAUTY

BLACK BEAUTY BY ANNA SEWELL

KOBO (E-BOOK), FIRST PUBLISHED 1877

136 PAGES 

HTTP://EN.WIKIPEDIA.ORG/WIKI/BLACK_BEAUTY 

BLURB FROM THE COVER 

Black Beauty is the autobiography of a horse. This gentle book follows the life a well bred horse, from his early childhood in a pleasant meadow, through a myriad of owners—some kind and some cruel—until fate returns him to the meadow in which he was born. A wonderful story that will remain with you and your child. 

EXTRACT 

The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it. Some shady trees leaned over it, and rushes and water-lilies grew at the deep end. Over the hedge on one side we looked into a ploughed field, and on the other we looked over a gate at our master’s house, which stood by the roadside; at the top of the meadow was a grove of fir trees, and at the bottom a running brook overhung by a steep bank. 

REVIEW 

Black Beauty was a favourite when I was eight or nine. I haven’t read the book for about 25 years. I had a very pleasant trip down memory lane re-reading this classic. Black Beauty is a very simple yet incredibly powerful story of the relationship between human and animals, in this case horses. Black Beauty is narrated by the horse in question, Black Beauty in the form of a sort of autobiography. Black Beauty tells us about his life, his cruel and kind owners, the best way to treat horses and the relationship between man and beast. I think Black Beauty is the only thing I’ve read that is narrated by an animal. Sewell makes this work really well. The use of a horse as a narrator is one thing that makes Black Beauty a lovely book. I also think Black Beauty is the only thing I’ve read that conscious teaches us morals, in this case how wrong it is to be cruel to animals and the rewards of being kind. Even though Black Beauty carries a moral message, Sewell manages not to come across as preachy or talk down to the reader. Black Beauty is a lovely, thought-provoking book. I got teared up several times especially when Black Beauty was cruelly treated or recounted another horse’s cruel treatment. Black Beauty is a lovely book that tugged at my heart-strings. 

RATING

4 STAR RATING

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2014 in Anna Sewell, E-book, Fiction, Novel

 

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REVIEW: THE COMPLETE OZ COLLECTION VOLUME 1 BY F. FRANK BAUM

OZ

Oz The Complete Collection Volume 1

Simon & Schuster (paperback), 2013             

574 Pages  

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wonderful_Wizard_of_Oz

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Marvelous_Land_of_Oz

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozma_of_Oz 

I only recently found out Baum had written fifteen books about Oz. I bought the complete set a five-book box set recently. Each book contains three books. 

BLURB FROM THE COVER 

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her dog, Toto, find themselves in a strange land. Here, they meet the Munchkins and join the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion on an unforgettable journey to the Emerald City where the all-powerful Wizard lives. Can he help Dorothy return home? 

In The Marvellous Land of Oz, a young boy named Tip sets out to explore the Land of Oz. Along the way, he meets the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman. Eventually Tip’s journey takes him into the Emerald City where he realises that his life will be changed forever. 

In Ozma of Oz, Dorothy returns to Oz and meets the mechanical man, Tik-Tok. But when Dorothy is taken prisoner by the evil Nome King only Ozma of Oz can save them.  Will she be in time? 

Together in one book, the first three titles in L. Frank Baum’s classic fairy-tale series about the world of Oz. 

EXTRACT 

Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife. 

THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ 

REVIEW 

THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ 

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a favourite book when I was a child. I haven’t read it for years. The movie starring Judy Garland is one of my all-time favourites. I loved re-discovering Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion again. It’s been at least twenty years since I read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum’s first Oz tale is a good as I remember. Magical and wonderful. I loved The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. All my memories of reading this when I was a kid, cuddled up in an armchair with a mug of hot chocolate came back. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is fantastic. I can’t wait to read the 14 other books. 

THE MARVELLOUS LAND OF OZ 

I really enjoyed the second Oz book though thought it wasn’t quite as enjoyable as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum offers another fun tale full of wild characters and made adventures. I did miss Dorothy a bit though. The characters in The Marvellous Land of Oz didn’t sparkle quite as much. There are a lot of elements from The Marvellous Land of Oz that make it into the movie Return to Oz. Mombi is an old sorceress in the book and becomes the name of a villain in the movie. Jack Pumkinhead and the Gump also feature in the film. I liked catching up with the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow. 

OZMA OF OZ 

I loved Ozma of Oz. I thought the book was as good as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I loved Dorothy’s return. Ozma of Oz is well-written and packed with crazy characters and adventures and I enjoyed every page. Almost everything that happens in Ozma of Oz features in the movie Return to Oz. I like the movie so I enjoyed reading the source of inspiration. I loved reading about the Wheelers and Tik-Tok and the Nome King and the princess with a collection of thirty heads that she can changes whenever she wants (who becomes evil Mombi in Return to Oz). It was sort of weird reading about Tip from The Marvellous Land of Oz transformed into the beautiful Ozma. Ozma of Oz is a great read. I’m looking forward to volume 2. 

RATING

5 STAR RATING

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2014 in Fiction, L. Frank Baum, Novel

 

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REVIEW: LOOKING OUT OF BROKEN WINDOWS BY DAN POWELL

BROKING WINDOWS

Looking Out Of Broken Windows by Dan Powell

Salt Publishing (paperback), 2014

168 Pages  

http://www.saltpublishing.com/shop/proddetail.php?prod=9781907773730 

BLURB FROM THE COVER 

SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2013 SCOTT PRIZE 

The characters in this Scott Prize shortlisted debut collection are all a little broken. Haunted by the past, trapped in the present, and frightened of the future, the world they look out on seems a dark and treacherous place. But there remains, for each of them perhaps, a glimmer of hope. 

A daughter returns home to find cracks in more than just her parents’ marriage. A middle-aged man plots to escape the clutches of his controlling mother. A woman, numbed by grief and desperately clinging to old routines, struggles to make sense of her sudden, terrible loss. A terminally ill man fights to survive long enough to let go. The staff and customers of The Teacup cafe witness a meteorological miracle that will change their lives. 

Daring, intense and poignant, Looking Out of Broken Windows maps an emotional terrain both expansive and intimate and includes stories which were awarded The Yeovil Prize for Fiction and the 2013 Carve Esoteric Award, and shortlisted for both the Salt Short Story Award and The Winchester Writers Conference Short Story Prize. 

EXTRACT 

Mum called to say Dad was having a baby with someone else. He’d come home from work that night, told her what he’d been up to and packed his bags. Glad of the excuse to get out of Manchester, I jumped on the last train home. I arrived a little after midnight to find all the windows dark. My door key turned in the lock, but the door wouldn’t open. I shoved it with my palm, then my shoulder, but still it wouldn’t budge. I thumped hard on the door, imagining

Mum’s body sprawled on the other side. 

LOOKING OUT OF BROKEN WINDOWS 

REVIEW 

I thought Looking out of Broken Windows was a fantastic collection of stories. Powell writes about a diverse array of subjects, characters and situations. Unusually for a collection, I didn’t find any stories that were similar. Every story was different and unique in its own way. Some stories in Looking out of Broken Windows were funny, some were sad, some were tragic and others were touching in a thousand little different ways. I thought every story in Looking out of Broken Windows was great. I laughed and cried, over and over. The title story is a gem. I’ve never laughed so much at a story before. Half mown lawn was an incredibly sad, moving story. A real heart-tugger. The Bus Shelter is another story that made me want to cry. This time Powell deals with old age and senility in such a touching way I found it heart-breaking. My gran has been dead for thirteen years and she had Alzheimer’s disease for a long time. The old man in The Bus Shelter reminded me of her a little and I wanted to hug him and make him a cup of tea. I thought Demand Feeding was brilliant and very original. I thought disintegrating marriage was quite disturbing. Most collections of stories have one or two clunkers. Looking out of Broken Windows is the exception. Every story in this collection added to the strength of the collection as a whole. I loved Looking out of Broken Windows and look forward to reading more of Powell’s work. 

RATING

5 STAR RATING

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2014 in Dan Powell, Fiction, Short Fiction

 

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