February 27, 2014

Top Ten (or in this case five) Tuesday (or in this case Thursday) - All about the Music. And the MENS.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish and is just my favourite meme out there in that it caters to both my love of books and obsession with lists of things. 

This week: Musical Boys and Why I Love Them So. 

Once again, I am aware that it is not Tuesday.  I am also aware that this list contains only five things, not ten.  I am additionally aware that this is a post that I have posted before, back in the early days of my blogging career (almost, in fact, four years ago).  But I love it and I love the subject matter and when I realised that this week TTT could be about ANYTHING, this is what I thought of.  Now, I could probably get this list up to ten if I had any time but I now work at the library six days a week. SIX.  So I just don't. If you would like to add your own contributions in the comments it would make my day - if not, just enjoy the musical marvels below:

Five: Edward – Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer
I nearly didn't include Edward. Number five was almost going to be Sam from Shiver. Who is less disturbing, really. However, Edward really fits my mould better. He is troubled, has a dark secret, and is clearly very hot. Sadly, he does not display any humour and also has stalker like tendencies. He is here, however, because his piano playing saves him for me as a character. He sit forget all the creepy stuff. Not enough to let it go entirely, but still... The lovely Robert Pattinson tipped this for me when I saw him actually playing the piano in the Twilight movie. With his own hands (which, less face it, was the ONLY selling point of the ENTIRE FILM). Swoon....thud.

Four: Joe – The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Joe plays guitar and horn and pretty much everything else you can think of. Unlike many of the others on this list, he is not troubled when we meet him. He is happy and lovely and plays music for the sheer joy of it. I would like him to live in my kitchen with his guitar. And his eyelashes. I would feed him cookies and he would play me songs. Bat. Bat. Bat. Strum. Strum. Bat. Etc.

Three: James – Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater
Again, James was nearly knocked of his post by Sam (another Maggie creation). In the end, however, I just like James more. He plays the pipes. I live in Scotland where most guys playing the pipes are large and sweaty. Not so, James! He is hot and lovely. He also plays the piano under the tutelage of another hot, musical guy (the fantastic Sullivan- I have no idea what Sullivan plays but he rocks a Julliard sweater, so he must be pretty good. And hot). James is one of my favourite male protagonists of recent times and again he is smart, funny, troubled and caring. Perfect. Also, he writes random words all over his hands which should probably ring alarm bells regarding mental illness, but is actually just really sexy.

Two: Jace – The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare
Aaaah, Jace. You were so nearly number one.  What a guy... Let's check our list of qualifying attributes:  Is he hot? Man, yes. Like Michaelangelo angel hot. Is he troubled? Yes – major family issues. And then some. Is he smart? Uh-huh – he speaks about a dozen languages and seems to be able to quote from every book of note ever written. Is he funny? Laugh out loud and role on the floor so. Most importantly – is he musical? Yes, yes, yes. Even better, he plays the piano in “a desultory fashion”. He's so good, he doesn't even careI may marry him one day.

One: Sebastian – Sadler's Wells Series by Lorna Hill
So, you may be wondering where all this has come from, this obsession with men and music. Well, we have now reached the crux of the matter. I first read the Sadler's Wells books when I was about nine. I was really into ballet, and that is what they focus on so I was happy (there are also a lot of horses featured, but you can't have everything). Sebastian doesn't appear in all of the books, just the first two where he plays antagonist and love interest to heroine Veronica. Sebastian is smart, wickedly so, and unlike any other character on this list is absolutely driven by his music. He cannot live without it, or Veronica, for whom he plays while she dances (usually in some swoony outdoor setting). He is hot – all piercing blue eyes and long piano-player fingers. He is also a bit of a bad boy – in that he can be a bit cruel, his humour sarcastic and his judgements final. Importantly, he has some issues involving family and being chucked out of his ancestral home. For years he was all I looked for in a boy – it is no coincidence that my first love was an immensely talented, hugely sarcastic, slightly broken piano player. And just as Sebastian informed my choices in men then, I suspect he perhaps still does. Ah, Sebastian – you got me at an impressionable age, and my heart remains with you....

February 11, 2014

A Riddle, Wrapped in an Mystery, Inside an Enigma (Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl)

Night Film
Marisha Pessl
Random House 2013

Stanislas Cordova is a man shrouded in mystery. A filmmaker who has directed arguably the most frightening features in the history of the form, he lives and works on a secluded estate in upstate New York.  Never seen by the public, no longer financed by the studios, his work has long gone underground, watched in abandoned subway tunnels and Paris catacombs.  Yet stories of him abound – everyone has one, be it about his work, his house or his family – but that’s all they are… just stories.  Only one man has ever really tried to get to the truth of the sinister Cordova and he ended up ruined because of it. However, when Cordova’s beautiful daughter turns up dead, Scott McGrath, is driven to once more pursue the man, the myth, the possible monster – even if that means giving up everything he’s got left.

Night Film is told from the point of view of McGrath, the investigative journalist already once bitten by the Cordova myth. When Ashley Cordova is found dead, he becomes quickly obsessed with the idea that there is more to her demise than a simple suicide.  As he starts to once more delve into the depths of a man who is more mystery than matter, he is quickly joined by Hopper – a guy who has a childhood link to Ashley, and Nora, an aspiring actress looking for somewhere to live and something to do.  They make an interesting and rather winning team, with Nora managing to temper the obsessional leanings of McGrath and the brooding of Hopper.

Ashley, herself, is ever present yet ephemeral.  She never quite takes form and is endlessly fascinating because of it – a beautiful girl, talented, damaged and strange.  Then there is Cordova, never seen, never heard, never understood yet the character that inhibits this story more than any other.  He’s a tour de force of ambiguous terror and looms in all the shadows.  There is more than a touch of film noir about the characters.  McGrath is the 1940’s gumshoe, dogged to the point of instability, Nora the ingĂ©nue, full of innocent enthusiasm while Hopper becomes the tortured young grifter, desperate to save the girl he loves and has lost.  Ashley is the lost waif while Cordova remains only a suggestion at the back of every scene.  Pessl’s writing more than nods to this genre and is, fittingly, almost filmic in its visual nature.  It’s extremely atmospheric and at times very frightening.

The story of Night Film is one that while linear at heart is also extremely complex.  As well as McGrath’s narration, the book is peppered with additional content – articles on Cordova from Time magazine; interviews in Rolling Stone; images from his films; the content of a strange website run by fans.  These are all beautifully presented, look entirely real and take readers into a strange hinterland where fiction and non-fiction start to blur and where the darkness surrounding Cordova seeps from the page and into the mind.  Additionally, Night Film comes with its own app.  Really.  Every now and again, a small bird graphic appears on a page and, when scanned with a smart phone or tablet, takes readers to yet further content – film posters, piano recordings and the dictated notes of a confused psychiatrist among much more.  Again, it has all been created with real care and not a small amount of talent.  It is in the combination of these seemingly real additions and the increasingly bizarre story that Night Film achieves real unease.  In particular, a story recounted within the text regarding a role that Cordova’s son took in one of his films becomes deeply disturbing when put together with images that the reader has recently seen but not understood.

Night Film is a very clever book.  As the story progresses, it starts to feel as though one is reading one of Cordova’s scripts and the sense of unreality that hits the characters also hits the reader, particularly as the plot spirals through terrifying film sets, hard-to-believe puzzle boxes, possible witchcraft and an ending that is as ambiguous as the films Cordova himself makes.  The is-it-a-bird-is-it-a-book-is-it-a–film-is-it-a-plane idea, in combination with the found footage aspect of the accompanying app is all very…meta., and can be little overwhelming.  It’s also a very long book (600 odd pages) and the story is, arguably, rather under-edited containing flabby sections that take away from what would otherwise be a taught and deeply scary thriller.  Still, while this sort of thing has been done to greater effect in the terrifying House of Leaves (review here), Pessl proves herself as a writer with real guts and skill as a storyteller and for fans of the horror film, particularly of directors such as Stanley Kubrick and Dario Argento, this is a must read.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. Night Film is available now. A word of advice, the accompanying app is free but you require a device with a rear facing camera lens to use it. However, the book can be read and enjoyed without accessing the app at all.

February 08, 2014

We Are Family (Salvage by Keren David)

Keren David
Atom 2014

Cass Montgomery always knew that she was adopted.  No biggy really, her mother had her young and couldn't cope and so she was raised by loving, middle-class perfecto-parents in a leafy English suburb.  She can remember almost nothing of her birth family and she doesn't really mind.  Why would she want to remember?  Aiden Jones, on the other hand, can do nothing but remember. Shunted between foster families, children's homes and occasionally back to his incapable mother, Aiden's fractured childhood has created a frightened, angry and lost young man.  Lost that is, until he sees his younger sister Cass's face on the front of a national newspaper.  Could this really be his chance to see her again and maybe even to find something positive from the wreck of his childhood?  And could Cass be about to discover that her beginnings were not quite as humble as she thought?  Or will families be just as difficult as we know and love them to be, regardless of their make-up or background? 

There is no escaping it, this is a gritty read.  Really, it's not one for a rainy day but it's messages are extremely important, especially for a younger audience.  Adoption is not exactly new fodder for YA authors, although the inclusion of class differences and also the argument of nature v nurture make this a really refreshing view.   Whilst there are certainly flashes of light in the dark, Aiden's story in particular is close to the bone and may be uncomfortable reading for some. I think this, however, leads to Aiden being a surprisingly likable character - for all of his flaws, and there are many, we can see that he is a product of his upbringing and we are instantly drawn to him, hoping that he will be helped and sheltered.  Cass on the other hand is a funny one.  Aloof, a little entitled despite her start in life, a-wash with first world problems, I felt her to be a little remote throughout.  I couldn't quite get her although, on a second reading, I think this is intentional as she doesn't seem to quite get herself.  Her journey can seem a little "teenage girl-y" in parts but it provides a perfect contrast to Aiden's more harrowing path.  Keren David bestows vivid characterisation on her supporting cast just as much as on Cass and Aiden and the reader is met with a wealth of believable and rounded characters, particularly Aiden and Cass's birth mother and Aiden's girlfriend, which make the world complete and engaging on an additional level.            

Keren David has opted for a dual-narrative approach giving the reader differing perspectives in each chapter with events often crossing over between the two narrators.  Both Cass and Aiden's voices are strong and unique enough to cope with this and the structure builds momentum and interest in what would otherwise have been a very plot-light outing.  Please don't think it's the case, however, that Salvage is boring - at worst it is a slow-burner, at best a great example of slice-of-life drama.  If you are after page after page of action, thrills, spills and suspense, Salvage probably isn't for you but if you are looking for solid, hard-hitting writing that will leave you thinking after the last word, give this one a go.  A title that I am sure will appeal to adults and young adults alike.    

This review was brought to you by Polka-Dot Steph. Salvage is available now. Thank you to Atom for sending us this title to review.


February 06, 2014

Such a Curious Creature (Review: Finding Jennifer Jones by Anne Cassidy)

Finding Jennifer Jones
Anne Cassidy
Hot Key Books 2014

Finding Jennifer Jones is the follow up to Anne Cassidy's excellent Looking for JJ. As such, this review contains minor spoilers (although none would necessarily ruin the experience of reading the initial book). If you haven't read Looking for JJ, but would like to know more about it before reading this, you can find an excellent review of it courtesy of Caroline at Portrait of a Lady - just click here

Meet Kate, university student, tourist information officer, all round ordinary girl.  Prior to University, Kate lived and worked in Croydon, where she was known as Alice. Prior to Croydon, Alice lived in a Facility, where she was known as Jennifer Jones. Prior to the Facility, Jennifer Jones, ten years of age, killed her best friend.  But for now, Kate is just Kate - getting on with her life, trying to forget.  Yet, she can't quite let go of her ten year old self and finds herself drawn to the only other person present on that fateful day, Lucy Bussell. At the same time, local events see Kate back in the police spotlight, wondering whether the future she hopes for can make its way through her murky past and whether she deserves a future that she so obviously denied someone else.

As in Looking for JJ, Kate isn't the most accessible character. While not as entirely disconnected as she was as Alice, there is still a degree of the institutionalised about her.  She's not unkind but is certainly removed, never seen more than in her social life where she drinks, flirts, has sex but never commits emotionally to anyone or anything. However, she's getting better, even in her sullen encounters with her probation officer it is possible to see that there may really be light at the end of this very long tunnel - were it not for the spectre of Jennifer Jones. Understandably, Kate has trust issues with others but primarily she has them with herself. Her inner life seems to be a miasma of repentance and self-loathing even as she argues that she cannot be blamed for the actions of her childhood.  It's a decent argument but it is clear that, at heart, Kate doesn't really believe it. Ultimately, her desire to contact Lucy screams of a desire to find the child that she was and take ownership of her own past - one that is still filled with a deep denial in terms of her upbringing.  While this creates a somewhat unreliable narrator, as Kate moves towards Jennifer Jones, we see a strong young woman emerging from a broken childhood, damaged but living on her own terms. Whether she ever becomes a sympathetic character will be up to the individual reader but she is an utterly compelling and believable one.

Finding Jennifer Jones has few other characters, but worthy of mention are Kate's probation officer, Julia and Lucy Bussell. Julia rather beautifully sums up the contradictory feelings of distaste and sympathy that readers may feel towards Kate.  A woman doing a job that at times makes her deeply uncomfortable but who does her best because it is the Right Thing.  Lucy, last seen at age eight, is rather perfectly written - the sixteen year old acutely inhabiting the younger child in a way that is both heartening and heart-breaking.  Her naivety has been replaced by a gormless kindness and the scenes in which she appears are fascinating.

The plot of Finding Jennifer Jones is simply that. Kate is trying to find herself, to make sense of her past and understand both who she was then and who she is now.  It's well written, particularly Kate's ongoing denial regarding her mother.  As she finds herself increasingly unable to ignore aspects of her previous life, the novel develops a slight subplot that allows a degree of closure and feeds Kate's desire to repent and move on even as understands that this may never be fully possible.  At heart, this is a novel about identity and self-awareness but it is also more than that.  Like Looking for JJ, it is a book that asks readers to look deeply at their own prejudices and beliefs. Jennifer Jones might be an all grown up, functioning member of society when we look at her now but do we still see a child killer? Or a woman who has overcome a terrible mistake born of a troubled past?  

Years ago, I read both The Case of Mary Bell and Cries Unheard by the excellent journalist, Gitta Sereny.  The very true story of Mary Bell clearly informed Anne Cassidy's story and Sereny's books riff on similar ideas - not least nature versus nuture but also the idea that we, as a society, don't know how to deal with children killing children, don't know what to do with them, how to look at them, how to understand them.  Both books would make fascinating reading for those still pondering these questions after finishing Finding Jennifer Jones.  And you will be pondering, because Anne Cassidy has followed the stunning Looking for JJ with an equally extraordinary exploration of the adult Jennifer. These are books that are important because they ask us to look at society but also at ourselves. They should be applauded, and taught and pressed into the hands of as many people as possible. Highly, highly recommended.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. Finding Jennifer Jones is out today.  Thank you to the publisher for sending us a copy of this title to review.

February 05, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Made me Cry

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme that originates at The Broke and The Bookish. And yes, I am aware that today is Wednesday but, well, anyway... This week the subject is books that make you cry.  I was going to write a little bit about each book but really that would just end up with me using words such as sad, moving, extraordinary.  What these books have in common, other than my tear stains, is that they are all as close to perfection as I have come to reading - it seems that books that move me rapidly become by favourite books ever. With the IMPORTANT EXCEPTION of House of Leaves which made me cry because I was SO DAMN FRIGHTENED. Anyway, without further ado, welcome to my own personal Valley of Tears: