Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

23306186One snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in North America. The world will never be the same again.

Twenty years later Kirsten, an actress in the Travelling Symphony, performs Shakespeare in the settlements that have grown up since the collapse. But then her newly hopeful world is threatened.

If civilization was lost, what would you preserve? And how far would you go to protect it?

This book. This book is a very good book.

It takes place in both the present and in a future where a virus has wiped out most of the population. Unlike most dystopian fiction, Station Eleven deals not so much with the apocalypse but with art – how it connects us, those who perform it and what it can mean.

It’s not so much plot driven as it is concept driven. It’s a novel crossed with a study of art and life, and artists’ lives. Instead of trying to puzzle out the virus and its cause and each nook and cranny of what comes after, it brings our focus in on one man, Arthur Leander, and a girl he once knew, exploring the interconnectedness of their stories.

I love it. It’s a quick read, but a good one. The only thing that disappoints me is that my copy doesn’t have the comic spread created by Nathan Burton (who also designed the cover) inside!

Station Eleven Comic

All in all a great little book which stands out from the crowd. If you like introspection over action, I would definitely recommend.

Review: Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

Radiance by Catherynne M. ValenteSeverin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

But her latest film, which investigates the disappearance of a diving colony on a watery Venus populated by island-sized alien creatures, will be her last. Though her crew limps home to earth and her story is preserved by the colony’s last survivor, Severin will never return.

Taken from Goodreads

Catherynne, Catherynne, Catherynne. Will you ever fail? If I had to sum up this book in one line, it would be: This book is everything I have ever wanted from Sci-Fi and more. (Or a ‘a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery’ as is more accurate, and brilliant.) Let’s face it, space whales. It’s so very me.

I am a self-confessed Catherynne M. Valente fangirl, I claw and clasp at everything she writes and can’t get enough (around seven months ago, I got words from Deathless tattooed onto my right bicep, and intend to get another from the same novel on the back of my left calf). But I am not ashamed to say that, I wasn’t sure about this one – I’d never read a novel which uses so many different kinds of storytelling. However, there was no way I wasn’t going to read it.

Boy, I’m glad I did. It is a beautiful, spiralling mystery, which seeps like paint. I loved piecing together each little snippet and clue, and I loved the descriptions of the creatures which still had their Earth names but were very much not the same as their earthly counterparts. As ever with a Valente work, the world building was complete and phenomenal, packed with little details that, while they do nothing to further the plot, solidify her version’s of planets and moons in a way that I never quite expect, even though I am used to seeing it in her work.

Valente is as poetic as ever and uses the different formats excellently, I’ve very rarely found myself enjoying reading a script but at this point, I am sure that I would adore reading everything she writes. Including her shopping lists. But not in a creepily stalkerish way. In a ‘I bet even they are poetic’ way. Rein it in, Elou. Anyway! The different formats in the book makes for some interesting typesetting, I particularly love the icons at the beginning of each chapter denoting on which planet it takes place.

The cover featured above is from the US, the book doesn’t come out in the UK until March but I adored the US cover desgn and had to own it (not to mention, I wanted to read it as soon as I possibly could, especially as I have to wait for the paperback editions of the Fairyland books to match my existing collection). Like I said, I claw for her writing.

What began as a short story in a zine, which I am listening to as I type, turned into a beautiful journey through space, and time, ever chasing a phantom of a girl who will always be a mystery that I would love to solve.

Thank you for another beautiful novel.

Review: One Year Wiser by Mike Medaglia

One Year Wiser by Mike Medaglia “ Wise words, illustrated: From the Buddha to Anne Frank ”

In One Year Wiser, the wisdom of the world’s great thinkers is brought to life in the beautiful hand-drawn illustrations of Huffington Post blogger and Zen Buddhist practitioner Mike Medaglia.

From Rumi to Roosevelt, the Buddha to Martin Luther King Jr., the illustrated meditations that fill this book will help you beat stress, be positive and appreciate the moment.

One Year Wiser is a book to fire your imagination, inspire change and guide you back to the here and now.

Taken from the publisher’s website.

One Year Wiser by Mike MedagliaHappy New Year! I have been waiting and waiting and waiting for the perfect time to post this review; what better time than the New Year?

Now, if you’ve read my blog, you know that I mention Mike Medaglia a lot, not just because he is my friend and colleague but because he is also a wildly talented and inspiring individual – and now he has a book!

One Year Wiser is a beautiful collection of daily inspiration, delivered in the form of illustrated quotes from the likes of Rumi, Picasso, Thomas Jefferson and my personal favourite, Catherynne M. Valente (which can be found on September 13th). The illustrations are textured and really bring the quotes to life in beautiful muted tones (with the occasional splash of bright colour making them pop!). Using a mixture of traditional line work, digital colouring, and rich texture each illustration is the perfect way to start the day.

This wouldn’t be an Elou Carroll Review without mentioning the book’s production – it’s a beautiful little object with hand-drawn endpapers (naturally), a bit bigger than a postcard and wonderfully weighty (you can feel the wisdom in that weight!). The cover is textured, a nod to the use of texture in the illustrations in its interior, with spot varnish to finish. Its head an tail bands cleverly coloured to match the title, and a ribbon so you will never lose your place. It’s a lovely little book – perfect for gifting! As I’m a bit of a production nut, I love it, and I was beyond impressed when I saw it.

One Year Wiser by Mike Medaglia

If you’re looking for a daily dose of wisdom, a lovely design, beautiful illustrations and a lot of inspiration, One Year Wiser is the perfect little book for the task.

Review: Jim Henson’s Labyrinth – the Novelisation

20736630

Fifteen-year-old Sarah accidentally wishes her baby half-brother, Toby, away to the Goblin King Jareth who will keep Toby if Sarah does not complete his Labyrinth in thirteen hours.

Finally back in print and for the first time in hardcover is the novelization of LABYRINTH written by A.C.H. Smith and personally overseen by Jim Henson. This is the first in a series of novels from the Jim Henson Archives. This beautiful hardcover features unpublished goblin illustrations by legendary illustrator and concept artist Brian Froud and an exclusive peek into Jim Henson’s creative process with 50 never-before-seen pages from his personal journal, detailing the initial conception of his ideas for LABYRINTH.

I waited a long time to review this book. If you know me, you know the film is one of my favourite things in the history of favourite things; I love it. Eighties fantasy films make me happy in a way that no other film makes me happy. As such, while I was wildly excited to get my grabby, little hands on this book, I was also quite apprehensive: I wasn’t sure how it would translate to writing, it’s such a vivid film, I wasn’t sure it was possible for it to be as good in written form.

My worries were unfounded. It is a brilliant rendition and I recommend it to anyone who can’t get into the film – my best friend wasn’t entirely enamoured by the singing (and crotch-magic-crotchiness of a certain scene) but once I force this book into her hands, I think she will really enjoy it. Perhaps force is a strong word, I don’t think I would have to force her to read it.

It translates really well and brings a new angle to the film that I wasn’t expecting. Getting to read the thoughts and feelings of the characters rather than simply seeing it on screen gives the story a lot more depth. As an avid fan, I am pleased. I know I am somewhat slow on the ball with this one – the book was released some time before and then made out of print – but, for once, I am really glad to have been slow. This edition, as it says above, includes some of Froud’s unpublished goblin illustrations and notes from Jim Henson’s journal and  is beautifully presented. Not to mention it’s part of a series alongside The Storyteller and The Dark Crystal, both of which are calling to my twitchy fingers.

Characterisation is, as to be expected, en pointe – my favourite is still the junk lady and the fireys still freak me out a little; the descriptions of familiar settings and scenes are wonderful, I particularly love everything in the goblin city; and Jareth is still, well, Jareth. Songs are replaced instead with dialogue and altered scenes, which I rather enjoyed and overall, I am incredibly happy with it.

If you like Labyrinth, do yourself a favour and read this book. If you don’t like Labyrinth but think you could, maybe, if not for all that singing, do yourself a favour and read this book. Heck, if you don’t like it anyway, read the book and you might find that you do!

Review: Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

9781472108685

A handsome young man arrives in St Petersburg at the house of Marya Morevna. He is Koschei, the Tsar of Life, and he is Marya’s fate. For years she follows him in love and in war, and bears the scars. But eventually Marya returns to her birthplace – only to discover a starveling city, haunted by death. Deathless is a fierce story of life and death, love and power, old memories, deep myth and dark magic, set against the history of Russia in the twentieth century. It is, quite simply, unforgettable.

I have been sat on this review for a while. I wasn’t quite sure how to put how much I loved this book into words. I think the best way is to tell you that after I finished reading it, I bought it for my best friend. I not only wanted her to read it, I wanted her to own it. And now she does.

Catherynne M. Valente has steadily grown to be my favourite author alongside Neil Gaiman and it is in a big way because of this book (as well as her Fairyland series and Palimpsest). Valente is a poet, her work is always very lyrical and inspiring. It is as much her use of language as the stories she tells that makes me love her work so much. It’s so rich and fulfilling, it’s very hard not to feel satisfied while reading her work.

Deathless tells the tale of Marya Morevna, a figure from Russian folklore, and Koschei the Deathless. I love folklore and it is clear that Valente does too, she weaves it together in a way which seems completely natural. Without prior knowledge of Russian mythology, it might take some Googling in some places where Russian terms aren’t explained but it is well worth it.

Valente employs repetition, as you might find in old fairy tales, to great effect. My favourite parts of the novel were those which were familiar. It really added to the magic of the novel. Again, she is very poetic and it’s incredibly satisfying.

The characters were compelling and while I didn’t always like them, I always cared about them. It’s hard to choose a favourite but I did particularly enjoy the domovoye (which, as I do not have the book on me, I may have spelt wrong). It has quite a large cast but that is not to the book’s detriment, in fact, it’s something I really enjoyed about it. I liked getting to know all of the different characters and creatures even if they did hurt my heart.

This book tugged at my heart and is still tugging even though it’s been a while since I finished reading it. I would definitely recommend buying it. It currently lives beside my bed and I don’t see it moving any time soon.

Review: The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon

9781408857397

Paige Mahoney has escaped the brutal prison camp of Sheol I, but her problems have only just begun: many of the survivors are missing and she is the most wanted person in London…

As Scion turns its all-seeing eye on the dreamwalker, the mime-lords and mime-queens of the city’s gangs are invited to a rare meeting of the Unnatural Assembly. Jaxon Hall and his Seven Seals prepare to take centre stage, but there are bitter fault lines running through the clairvoyant community and dark secrets around every corner.

Then the Rephaim begin crawling out from the shadows. But where is Warden? Paige must keep moving, from Seven Dials to Grub Street to the secret catacombs of Camden, until the fate of the underworld can be decided.

Back in July, you might remember me being deliriously happy that I’d received the early sampler of The Mime Order; now, in October, I am completely and utterly ecstatic to have been able to get a hold of the uncorrected proof as part of Bloomsbury’s advocate scheme! Huzzah!

Before I get onto the actual book, I need to talk about how wonderfully packaged it was. As soon as it arrived, I posted this tweet showing off the beautifully drawn map of I -4 it had been wrapped in. This and a few more maps appear at the beginning of the book, as well as some other deliciously designed tid-bits which are placed throughout the novel. It is a beautiful object, even at the uncorrected proof stage. The map itself was printed on lovely paper too, and we all know how much I love paper.

Bloomsbury really put effort into this ARC and it was definitely worth it.

You may have seen various reaction tweets in the last hour or so of my reading. If not, you can see them here, here and here.

24 hours later, I stick to my guns. It is fan-bloody-tastic, brilliant and all sorts of other positive adjectives. The writing has gotten stronger and often left my heart pumping. When I said I was tense in that first tweet, I really meant it. Samantha Shannon is a queen when it comes to building apprehension and making it last, slowly blossoming outwards in the pit of your stomach. Even thinking about it now, my stomach does little flips and turns.

I had expected a lot of this book, even before I read the sampler – it’s a big series and as such, it has to deliver. It does not disappoint. In fact, I like it even more than its predecessor, The Bone Season, and I liked that book a lot. So much that I have been urging people to read it since before its release date and still do. I will be doing the same with The Mime Order.

It is notoriously difficult to pull off a sequel that is as good as the book that came before, let alone one which is better – it’s a fantastic achievement and I feel a readerly sense of pride.

We see a lot of character development, particularly of members of the Seven Seals who didn’t get much air-time in The Bone Season. Other returning characters offer gasp-inducing twists and have a lot more depth than I had anticipated. We are introduced to a lot of new characters, some in more detail than others and I have high hopes to see a lot more of them in book 3 (which I need, I know it’s not written yet but I need it, someone find me a time machine).

As I said when I talked about the sampler, we get a huge insight into voyant politics and this may be why I love the book so much. I love the voyant society and its workings, from penny dreadfuls and pamphlets to scrimmages and spirits. It is a society of change and intrigue and I can’t help but get sucked in by it.

I can’t go into much more detail without giving away spoilers so you’ll just have to take my word that it is fantastic; the plot is twisty, turny and mindbogglingly brilliant; the characters make me want to hug them, love them and keep them safe, and throttle them all at the same time; and the design is beautiful. You really need to buy this book when it comes out.

It is due for release on the 27th January 2015 and you can go to the Bloomsbury website to be notified when it is available, or alternatively you can preorder it from Waterstones!

Review: Alice in Bed by Cathleen Schine

12311785

Stricken by a mysterious malady, college sophomore Alice Brody has suddenly lost the use of her legs. How does a bright, beautiful, and now immobile young woman proceed with her passions? As she convalesces in a Manhattan hospital, Alice finds herself attended by a motley group of visitors: indifferent nurses, doctors both good and bad, divorcing parents, and eccentric relatives. But Alice is a creature of many charms, whose wit can enchant those bearing even the worst bedside manner. With a captivating heroine of great comic depth, Alice in Bed is balm for whatever ails you.

I enjoyed this little book (I also enjoyed the way the cover felt, lovely and textured!). If you’re expecting something bleak, you will be pleasantly surprised; though situated in a hospital where 19 year-old Alice is unable to move her legs for reasons unknown, Alice in Bed is witty and amusing, quite unexpectedly.

Its cast of characters do sometimes seem like exaggerated caricatures but this is not to the novel’s detriment, in fact, I rather liked it. Alice was by far my favourite and though I find her taste in men somewhat dismal, her interactions with the other characters and inner monologuing can be endearing. Not an incredible amount happens in this book, it is largely and successfully character-driven.

Alice in Bed is a quick read (hence the short review!), you could get through it in an evening. If, like me, you read it over the course of two days and don’t use book marks, you might find the lack of chapters hampering. However, losing your place for a small while is a cheap price to pay for the continuation of your reading experience – it’s worth finding your place again.

Review: The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones

The year is 1750.

Meet Tristan Hart, precociously talented student of medicine.

His obsession is the nature of pain and preventing. He is on a quest to cut through superstition with the brilliant blade of science.

Meet Tristan Hart, madman and deviant.

His obsession is the nature of pain, and causing it. He is on a quest to arouse the perfect scream and slay the daemon Raw Head who torments his days and nights.

Troubled visionary, twisted genius, loving sadist.

What is real and what imagined in Tristan Hart’s brutal, beautiful, complex world?

This book was difficult. I had trouble with this book. I am normally a speedy reader, I can get through books rather quickly but not this one. Not because I didn’t like it (though, I spent a good chunk of the novel despising Tristan Hart) but because of the style it is written in. I could perhaps have been quicker if it were just the ‘mine heart’s and ‘mine head’s but I found the Seemingly Random capitalisation Hard to Deal With. I had to take a few days to process the novel in between chunks of reading. It was quite Distracting as You Might expect. Though, I do understand the reasoning behind it, to appear similar to texts released during the 1700s – it manages this marvelously.

I was drawn to The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones due to the promise of darkness and folklore. I was not disappointed, it is a very dark book, rife with visions of changelings and transmorphing gypsies. It deals with pain and pleasure, with anatomy and identity, and delusions; it was hard, at times, to tell what was real and what was not.

This book was intriguing, perhaps the best way to describe it. It moves at quite a slow pace, with lots to take in. You really have to sit down and read it, it’s not one of those books you can read while on an exercise bike or a running machine (I tried and failed at the former). While it wasn’t a quick read or a book in which I absolutely had to read on and on until I’d finished, I did want to know what happened. I never found myself tempted to put it away to attempt to read again later rather than finish in the first read through – when I first started reading I wasn’t sure that this would be the case but once I got over thinking badly of Tristan Hart (he seemed less pompous as the book progressed), I knew I was going to finish it.

There is a twist at the end, I will not tell you what that twist is but I will tell you it was among my favourite parts of the novel, alongside the storytelling employed by Katherine in her letters and Tristan’s exploration of goblins. I am glad I stuck with it.

If you like rather a lot of darkness, enjoy folklore and historical fiction, you might want to give this a try. I’m going to need a rather large break before I read this book again but I do intend to – there are most definitely things I will have missed while trying to get my head around the writing style.

Review: The Secret Place by Tana French

The Secret Place

The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says, I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.

Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. The Secret Place, a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.

But everything they discover leads them back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their fierce enemies, a rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper. Every step in their direction turns up the pressure. Antoinette Conway is already suspicious of Stephen’s links to the Mackey family. St. Kilda’s will go a long way to keep murder outside their walls. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, is circling, ready to pounce if any of the new evidence points toward his daughter. And the private underworld of teenage girls can be more mysterious and more dangerous than either of the detectives imagined.

The Secret Place is a powerful, haunting exploration of friendship and loyalty, and a gripping addition to the Dublin Murder Squad series.

I don’t normally read crime, I have read maybe one or two crime books in my life simply because I had a pre-defined idea in my head about what a crime novel was. When I was given a proof of The Secret Place during a mentoring session with Auriol Bishop, I didn’t know if I was going to like it and if the first page didn’t hook me, I probably wouldn’t’ve continued reading. I am so glad that I was given this book.

Right from the first paragraph, I was in and I just kept getting deeper and deeper the more I read. I devoured this book. The switch between a dithering ‘oh, I’m not sure this is my thing’ to ‘this is totally my thing, I need all of it right now, I need to know, I want it, I want it’ was almost instant. I want more (and so I shall get more, the rest of Tana French’s books are thoroughly on my to-buy list). This book led me on a meandering path which I was more than happy to follow; I came up with so many theories that I think my theories might have had theories. From the off, I wanted to know who killed him.

There were so many twists and turns that I changed my mind about who the killer was – my first theory, it turned out, was correct but I had already changed my mind by then, sure that it was someone else. I definitely had trouble sleeping when I knew that there were more pages to be read and clues to be uncovered; Tana French is absolutely fantastic at suspense.

I dare you to read this book and not like it.

The Secret Place is packed with brilliant characters, top notch writing and suspense which quite literally made my heart pound and is doing so even while I write this review. This is an exciting book. A really exciting book and you really need to read it. Really.

p.s The paper it’s printed on is really satisfying.