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I picked this up after reading about it in The Guardian, and I’m so glad I did. This is such an unexpected little book. The writing style is quite matter of fact, a little dry even, so it takes a while to warm to, but stick with it – it’s worth it. We follow a young Turkish man in Berlin between the wars. He is uncertain about himself and his place in the world, but as much as this is his story, the star of the book is Maria, the Madonna in a Fur Coat herself. Maria is determined to be herself no matter what. She is blunt in her refusal to submit to the male gaze under any terms but her own. In short, she is unexpected and amazing. Read this. You’ll quickly see why it’s seen as a rebellious book under the current government in Turkey.
Jack Sparks is a famous journalist. He’s also a drug addict. He writes journalistic exposes in the vein of Hunter S. Thompson (or at least he thinks he does). His latest book, ‘Jack Sparks on the Supernatural’ is to be his best yet. Only he dies before he can finish it. The Last Days of Jack Sparks is presented as his unedited manuscript, prefaced and footnoted by his semi-estranged brother. Jack, to put it mildly, is an unreliable narrator, and he’s a pretty unapologetic arsehole. Shot through with humour and horror (always a good combination), this was a much more interesting read than I was expecting, and I recommend it to horror fans looking for something a little bit different.
Not gonna lie, I took this out of the library based on its cover. So pretty! Happily, this is also a lovely little read. There are some negative reviews on Goodreads that say that this book doesn’t portray the Brontës accurately. This is not a book about the Brontës (thank goodness. Their lives were unspeakably dreary). It’s a book that just happens to take place in and around the area where the Brontës lived (well, not exactly, but to say any more would be a bit of a spoiler). Yuki, a young Japanese women, is in England, retracing a journey her mother took before her. We’re not sure why Yuki is following in her mother’s footsteps, and neither, it seems, is Yuki. Events unfold quietly, in unexpected ways, and the story of Yuki Chan and her mother begins to take shape. This is a story about family, about how well we can ever really know anyone, and about what binds us together. And it’s worth a read, even if Yuki couldn’t give a damn about the Brontës.
Cora wakes up in the middle of the night to find her estranged aunt Rose standing in the corner of her room. Although Rose doesn’t talk, Cora realises that Rose wants to take her somewhere. And so, without quite realising it, they embark on a journey across New York on foot. In flashbacks, we see Rose’s childhood in a group home run by a hypocritical pastor. As Cora and Rose walk, we become aware that absolutely nothing is as it seems. I came across Samantha Hunt when I read The Seas, which was a quiet book, loaded with repressed emotion and suffused with magical realism. Happily, Mr. Splitfoot follows the same pattern, though I found it darker than The Seas. Recommended to fans of magical realism, and fans of books that don’t tell you where they’re headed until they actually get there.
As I mentioned on my Instagram account, I’m not a massive fan of Robin/Dick Grayson, so reading about his first year as a superhero didn’t appeal that much to me. The stories were well done, and confronted the fact that Bruce Wayne shouldn’t be quite so gung-ho in running around Gotham with a child for a sidekick, but I was in this for Batgirl. Despite never having read any of the comics she appeared in before last year, Barbara Gordon is my hero. DC have had some terrible versions of her – versions that asked permission for everything they did. Versions that let Batman control them and their actions for very little reason. Versions that lacked agency and general kick-assery. This is not one of those versions. This Barbara initially becomes Batgirl to freak her Dad out at a costume party, but she quickly realises that she can make a real difference in Gotham and plunges herself whole-heartedly into the business of being a superhero. Batman’s not always happy at what she gets up to, and she’s not always sure she’s doing a good job, but she keeps at it with determination and verve<3 Plus, the artwork is really cool.
The story in this isn’t the worst, but the art… The art in this is absolutely disgraceful. The front cover is an excellent example. There’s Catwoman, being all bad-ass with her whip. Which has obviously excited her so much that her incredibly perky nipples are showing right through her leather outfit. There’s a lot of this. A lot of perky, physically improbable, nipples, and a lot of action shots of Catwoman on all fours, her arse splayed invitingly towards the reader. I’m actually disgusting myself typing this up so I’m going to stop.
The glory of Fleabag has almost made me forgive the BBC for moving BBC 3 online. That said, I would never have found out about it if it wasn’t for this Guardian article which makes it sound spectacular. And my god, it is spectacular. It’s dark and hilarious and sad and awkward and really fucking good. It’s on the iPlayer, so you’ll have no problems devouring all six episodes in one go like I did. For non-UKers, I’m pretty sure Amazon have picked it up, so you have a subscription to Amazon Prime, go find the glory that is this programme.
Probably my favourite Ms. Marvel volume so far. Kamala gets sucked into wider Marvel Universe events, and does her best to keep her people safe. The theme of family is so strong in this, and it’s done so beautifully. It’s really refreshing to see a teenage character’s family be both flawed and supportive. Plus, she finally gets to meet Captain Marvel, a meeting which is caused by catastrophe but which serves to strengthen them both. I’m sorry to see this particular run come to an end, especially when it’s due to another of Marvel’s ridiculous ‘THIS EVENT WILL CHANGE THE MU FOREVER/FIVE MINUTES’, but this was definitely a strong note to end on.
There’s potential in this team-up of Spider-Woman, Spider-Gwen and Silk, but this volume which collects issues from various titles just didn’t really work for me. The set-up of Jessica Drew serving as a mentor for alternate universe Spider-Women is a good one. Jess is older and more experienced than both Spider-Gwen and Silk, and they have the potential to learn a lot from her. They also both have an easy camaraderie with her. The problem is that they don’t get on with each other, and I don’t know why. Cindy is weird, admittedly, a far less optimistic version of Kimmy Schmidt, but Gwen seems to have no empathy for what she’s been through. It’s probably explained in that dreadful Spider-Verse event the characters all met during, but I’m not going to subject myself to any more of that particular mess! So yeah, good characters, good set-up, so-so storytelling.
In some ways, this takes a single joke and plays it for far too long, but I did enjoy it overall. When Suzie climaxes, time literally stops. The flashback sections that show us Suzie discovering her powers and trying to come to terms with them, were really well done, and the tone was deliciously wry. At a party she meets Jon, who turns out to have the same powers as her. For me, Jon’s flashbacks were a bit too crass. Fraction’s obviously trying to highlight the difference between how men and women view sex, but Jon’s flashbacks were too focused on porn for me. Jon’s also not a particularly likeable guy, which makes his relationship with Suzie and bit baffling. Suzie’s nice. She’s a good person, single-handedly trying to save the library she works in (are libraries in the USA not public buildings? This part of the story confused me a bit!). Part of her attraction to Jon is obviously finding out that they have the same ability to freeze time, but that doesn’t really explain why she goes along with his ridiculous plan to rob the bank he works at. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes, but I’m not in a particular rush to pick the next volume up.
Laughably bad. It starts with Lara sitting in her office in the British Museum. Because why wouldn’t the British Museum employ one of the biggest cultural vandals of our times? She is also openly carrying a gun. Because that’s what British people do at work. Despite the strict gun laws, the strap a gun on their hips and wander into their job like it’s a-okay. The plot is weak, the characterisation is terrible, and the attention to detail is weak at best. Avoid!
Despite dealing with a probable world-ending event, there’s a quietness about this book. Augustine refuses to be evacuated from an Arctic research centre and finds himself alone until he finds a child who appears to have been abandoned with him. Meanwhile, the crew of a spaceship on their way home from a mission to Jupiter, lose contact with Mission Control. The chapter’s change from Augustine’s point of view to the point of view of the crew of the Aether, with both sets of characters coming to realise that they cannot contact anyone on Earth, and beginning to fear the worst. The book is less about the apocalypse though, and more about human relationships. There’s a great deal of hope shot through everything, despite the terrible circumstances that all the characters find themselves in. Plus, look at that cover <3
A story split into three distinct sections, for me. The first section, the set-up, was a bit ho-hum – a man is abducted and forced to strip and step through a mysterious door. The next section deals with him trying to figure out what happened to him, and again, it was okay but nothing special. It’s the third section that made this book worth reading for me. This is where the sci-fi explodes out of the thriller, and where you finally start to care for the characters. At last! I loved the last third of the book. It was bonkers, and really very clever, and it made slogging through the first two thirds worth it.
The BBC recently ran a poll to find ‘Scotland’s Favourite Book’ (the poll closed a few days ago and the results won’t be announced until October). Which is cool, but it wasn’t really a poll to find the book that people living in Scotland like best, it was a poll to find pretty much anyone’s favourite novel written by an author born or based in Scotland. I’m being a little bit nitpicky, I admit, but those two things are not the same. Scotland’s favourite book may well be by a Scottish author, but it might also be Catch-22, you know? And does an author based in Scotland really qualify as a Scottish author? J.K. Rowling and Kate Atkinson both appear on the list as they both live in Scotland, but to me, they’re both English authors. I know that Hogwarts is located somewhere in Scotland, but it feels like a quintessential English boarding school in many respects, especially given that very few characters are explicitly not English.
For me, for a book to qualify as ‘Scottish’, I would expect a Scottish setting and a Scottish feel in either characters or dialogue. Is that a fair expectation though? Is it limiting to say that Scottish books should just deal with Scottish issues? Possibly, but then Scottish issues are a microcosm of world issues. And then you have the thorny issue of the author’s nationality. How big of a part should that play? As you can see, I’m quite conflicted about the whole thing, so I should just show you the list and let you make up your own mind.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, despite being written by a Scottish man and having its main character based on another Scottish man, has little of Scotland about it. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is, again, written by a Scottish man but set in England. Life After Life is also set in England, but written by an English woman living in Scotland. Under the Skin is written by a Dutch-born, Australian-educated, Scotland-residing man, but is the only book of the four to actually be set in Scotland. It’s all quite messy! What makes a book ‘Scottish’? And what qualifies one book over another?
I’ve read five of these titles (Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, Morvern Callar, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde), started but not finished two (The Thirty-Nine Steps and Trainspotting), and would quite like to read five (Lanark: A Life in Four Books, Life After Life, The Panopticon, The Wasp Factory and Under the Skin). All of which leaves me singularly unqualified to vote, even if I hadn’t missed the deadline 😀
What about you? Any thoughts about what makes a book Scottish? Have you read any of the books on the list, or are there any on your wishlist?
I cleverly smashed the screen on my phone last week, which you’d think would have given me more time to read, or even to catch up on blog comments, but… nope!
As befits a short story collection, this had ups and downs. The opening story, ‘To Hold The Bridge’, was set in the world of the Abhorsen books and was a brilliant look at a world we’re familiar with, but from a completely different perspective than usual. I’d read a full book about Morghan, if Nix cared to write one. I’d also love a full book based on ‘A Handful of Ashes’, a complex story about a college for witches. A low point for me was the sci-fi section, which had an overly long John Carter of Mars companion story, and was a bit more steampunk overall than I like my sci-fi to be. I also struggled with some of the more adult short stories, not because they were bad, but because it was too much of a jump for me to go from ‘To Hold The Bridge’ to a story where people are swearing. I have nothing against swearing in books, but here it felt out of place. Something else that surprised me were the stories involving characters created by other writers – there’s the aforementioned John Carter of Mars story, but there’s also a (sort of) Sherlock Holmes one, and a Hellboy one. To balance that, there are stories based on Nix’s own other works – the aforementioned Abhorsen story, as well as a Shade’s Children one, and one set in the A Confusion of Princes universe. So, some good stories, some not so good, but definitely worth picking up.
It’s hard to know what to say about this book. It’s gorgeous. Wonderfully, beautifully, gorgeous. Through a series of diary entries, letters and photographs, we follow Colonel Allen Forrester’s journey through an Alaska unexplored by white Westerners. We also follow his wife, Sophie, left behind in Vancouver. Interspersed with this is the modern day communication between Colonel Forrester’s great-nephew and a museum curator. This book questions what it takes to belong to a place, it looks at ideas of identity, and it is suffused with love. Alaska, as it so often is in literature, is a character rather than a backdrop. It is mysterious, challenging and awe-inspiringly beautiful. Colonel Forrester is upright, determined and open to the strangeness he encounters. Sophie is bold and inspiring, uncertain, but unafraid to forge her own path. The love between the two of them colours the whole book, and manages to avoid even a hint of the saccharine. The modern story takes in so much, in a relatively small amount of text – what does it mean to be a native Alaskan?, when are you too old to follow your dreams?, and how much information is too much information to share with a relative stranger when you’re gay? There are so many massive ideas contained in this book, and they are all explored with a lightness that takes real skill.
For some reason, I felt like I hadn’t read a lot this week, but my Goodreads account assures me that I read 3 books and 4 graphic novels. And I’m 412 pages into To Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix. So it looks like I can’t be trusted to self-assess my reading achievements at all…
I came across this on Instagram and it sounded like a modern Gothic horror, which I was all for. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work for me. Kate is invited to an isolated house/castle by the most popular (and rich) boy at her school (is this really a British thing? It seems so much more American to have a character who’s the most popular boy at school. I went to an all-girls school though, so what do I know?). In tandem with her story, we read the story of Elinor, the original mistress of Darkmere. Kate’s story is… well, it wasn’t for me. It’s boring, is my biggest problem with it, and cliched. The rich kids at school love to party, and Kate is desperate to fit in. You see pretty much every plot point coming from a mile away. Elinor’s story is much more interesting, and is pretty much the only part of the book that manages to achieve anything approaching a Gothic horror feel. I would have much preferred an expanded version of Elinor’s story, with the modern elements ditched altogether.
TIM-21 is taken to the secret base of the surviving robots, and gets to know TIM-22, and we get to meet Andy, TIM-21’s ‘brother’. I am loving this title and strongly recommend it to pretty much everyone. The sci-fi element is solid, the story is complex and touching, and the artwork is absolutely beautiful. Read it, read it now!
Hazel attends school in her refugee/prison camp, and is generally awesome, and her parents take steps to get her back. So much goodness in this volume. There’s even another lying cat – yay! Saga is such a clever look at families, friendships and the things that make us different, and the character list continues to expand in unexpected and wonderful ways. I’m so pleased there are so many excellent sci-fi comics out at the moment!
I have mixed feelings about this, to be honest. On the one hand, I love the matriarchal society, the artwork and Little Fox (so much love for Little Fox!). On the other hand, I feel that we didn’t quite get enough information in the first few issues, which made things a bit hard to follow, and I take issue with the amount of boobs on show. Look, I get that some women love to wear low-cut tops, and that that is their absolute right, but the sheer amount of characters wandering around this with massive parts of their boobs uncovered just didn’t feel right to me. It felt like catering to the male gaze in a comic that has been marketed as a feminist read. Exposed boobs don’t mean you can’t be feminist, but there was so much of it that it just made me feel… uncomfortable, I guess? The boob issue aside, this is a comic that I feel will improve hugely in the next volume, now that it has more or less established the world it’s set in.
A girl is found in the basement of a burnt out house where she has been bound for ten years. This unsettling opening sets the tone for the rest of the book which is a story of magic, uncertainties and hatred. Clementine doesn’t know why she ended up in that basement, but she also doesn’t know if she ever should have been rescued. This is not a book about a special girl, rescued by a special boy and falling in love with him. It’s much more complicated than that. Nothing is easy in Clementine’s world, or particularly nice, and triumphing over evil is far from straightforward because we can never be sure which side is the bad one. Does any of that make sense? An interesting read, definitely, with a beautifully sparse cover, and one worth giving a shot, but it’s not my favourite Brenna Yovanoff book.
Gus lives in an isolated cabin with his father, the only person he can ever remember talking to. His father teaches him how to survive in the wild, and to never leave the woods, and that if he sees another person, he should run. But then Gus’ father dies, leaving him all alone, and Gus breaks all the rules, thinking he’s doing the right thing. I loved this. It’s gentle, and slow-moving, and yet it packs a punch. It’s set post-apocalypse, with children being born half human, half animal for no reason that anyone can discern, but it’s not about the strangeness of that, it’s about human nature and how far people will go to protect themselves.
I picked this up because I thought Lisa O’Donnell was an Irish author. Turns out she’s Scottish, and the book is set in the part of Glasgow I work in, which was unexpectedly cool. This is a wonderful book. It’s dark and gritty and messy and hopeful, and opens with the lines “Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.” To tell you more would be to spoil it, I think, but I really can’t recommend this highly enough. Prepare yourself for quite a bit of Glasgow slang if you do pick it up though 😀
Bit of a bumper edition since I didn’t post last week. That just means there’s more good stuff though, right?
I’ve been looking into making cakes in jars lately, for a camping trip my boyfriend and his family are going on, but here are a rake of totally unrelated recipes that I got distracted by.
I’ve been working some overtime lately, so my posting schedule has fallen a bit behind. Ah well, we’ll get there in the end!
I picked this up after seeing it recommended on a few blogs, and I’m glad I did because it’s a beautiful book. We follow four teenagers in Alaska in the 1970s, as they go through events that change their lives in various ways. But in some ways this is a novel about place rather than plot, and the version of Alaska that Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock evokes is messy, and real, and beautiful, and heart-breaking. The writing style is wonderfully understated, the characters are unusually varied (native Alaskans FTW!), and I just really enjoyed it, you guys.
As I said on my Instagram, I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, it’s a touching, slightly heart-breaking story about a girl whose father just doesn’t come home one day (it’s set in Poland during the purges of the intellectual and professional classes during World War II). She meets a stranger who teaches her how to survive in the wilderness, and moves through the war as best she can. On the other hand, it’s unresolved somehow. There are a lot of implications in this book (Anna doesn’t know about the Nazi purges, and she also doesn’t know who the Swallow Man really is although we as adult readers are given enough information to make a guess), but very little that’s concrete. I understand that the uncertainty reflects the war, but as a story-telling method I’m not sure it worked for me. One thing I will say is that there are a few reviews on Goodreads that have a problem with the narrative voice being too advanced for a child as young as Anna – here’s the thing, the story is Anna’s, but it isn’t told by her, it’s told by an all-seeing narrator, so… no Goodreads, reviewers, I gotta disagree with you on that one.
I had such high hopes for this book. Two scientists trapped at a remote research station is always a good start, and I was hoping for an atmospheric horror story. Unfortunately, all the events of synopsis take place in the first chapter. After that we jump forward in time, and embark on a detailed discourse on philosophy, religion and science. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not put off by the idea of that, but it just wasn’t what I expected from this particular book. This is actually the second book I’ve read by Adam Roberts (I read The Snow in 2009), and the second one that disappointed me.
This is one of the strongest Constantine collections that I’ve read. It’s creepy, and ugly, and twisty, and very John Constantine. All of that said, an awful lot of women die in this volume, mostly to propel John’s own story forward, so that’s… less good.
Another book that I had high hopes for, and another book that let me down. The reviews I read of this all said it was an excellent horror story, and I don’t really understand why. The basic idea is brilliant – the town of Black Spring is haunted by a woman who was killed in the 17th century for being a witch. She pops up at random all over town and creeps people out with her sewn up eyes. But they’ve gotten used to her, so they track her movements on an app, and they just throw a sheet over her if she shows up during dinner. So far, so excellent. But here’s the thing, the execution of the story is not nearly as strong as the basis of the story. It loses something, I feel, in being moved to an American town in its translation (originally written in Dutch, it was set in the Netherlands). The change of location robs some of the inherent creepiness of a setting you’re mostly unfamiliar with. There are also quite a few moments were characters are referred to as ‘proud’ Americans, usually in conjunction with them acting like dimwits, and that made me uncomfortable given that the writer himself is not American. My biggest problem with this book though, is the misogyny that runs through every single bit of it. Almost all of the main characters are men. The only noteworthy female character apart from the witch herself, the town’s butcher, is described as hideously fat, and dull to boot. She was the victim of domestic abuse and rape in the past, and is raped again during the book. A rape which doesn’t even have the decency to pretend to advance the plot, might I add. All the other women mentioned are good little wives who dance to the tune of their menfolk, or they are women who we are told could be sexually attractive if it wasn’t for the shocking flaws they have, like having gigantic foreheads (seriously). Gigantic foreheads are the worst. And, despite teenagers playing a major role, there are no teenage girls mentioned. At all. Then there’s the authors really weird obsession with ‘tits’. The town’s politician threatens the butcher and while he does it, he grabs her breast and squeezes it painfully. The witch, in a moment that is disgusting rather than scary, is stabbed in the breast by a teenager, with her breast being described in really unnecessary detail. And, in the weirdest example, children are swaddled and placed together into a mound that looks like a giant breast with a nipple on top (the nipple being the butcher, because why wouldn’t she be a nipple?). Yeah, okay then. Oh, and let’s not forget that it’s not at all scary.
Seren lives on a Generation ship that is 80 years into a 700 year mission. To maximise diversity, everyone on the ship is scientifically paired with a life partner when they finish school. Life is regimented, and creativity is limited. But this life has never sat well with Seren, and without realising what’s happening, she falls in love with someone who is definitely not her assigned life partner. The sci-fi parts of this are pretty solid. Generation ships have such potential for storytelling, and I liked the restrictions Ling included which are intended to stop the crew moving too far away from the society they’ve left behind. This is a Young Adult novel though, and the sci-fi elements are outweighed by the love story which is, well, a bit much. Seren falls in love almost immediately, and it is THE BEST THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD. Her love is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED. And that gets a bit tiresome, to be honest. So, overall, The Loneliness of Distant Beings is a decent but not fantastic read (with a great title).