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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).
I recently rewatched the most recent season of Grey’s Anatomy, and I remembered reading somewhere that the character of Amelia Shepherd had first been introduced in Private Practice. Now, I gave up on Private Practice after its first season aired, but I like having mindless TV on in the background while I cook, so I thought I’d revisit it. I’m currently at the start of season four and I have to ask – how did this programme last for six seasons? Seriously, how?? It seems like a version of adult life that teenage girls would come up with. Grey’s Anatomy is unashamed in its obvious manipulation of your feelings, but Private Practice is ridiculous. It’s just full-on drama, all the time. Addison’s in love! With this guy! No! With that guy! Wait, she’s a cheater! And she wants a baby! She hasn’t had sex for, like, six weeks! Her life is over! It’s okay, here’s another guy! Plus, it seems that, with the exception of Dell who doesn’t really count, bad things only ever happen to the women, which makes me a bit judgemental about where the writers are coming from. And let’s not forget that we got this instead of a show with Jeffrey Dean Morgan… I’m not gonna lie to you, I’m almost certain that I’m going to watch until the last episode but I’ll be thinking ‘what the hell??’ the whole time. (I love Charlotte though. She is easily my favourite, and I want her to be in pretty much every TV programme ever.)
I have a soft spot for classic Girl’s Own fiction, especially boarding school stories written (roughly) between 1920 and 1960. There’s something about a boarding school story that appealed to me as a child and continues to appeal to me today. They’re a version of England, and the idea of the ‘stiff upper lip’, that never quite existed. There’s an innocence to them, and in the best ones, a message about being the best you that you can be.
My introduction to this niche genre probably came from Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St. Clare’s books, where good characters get their rewards, and bad ones their comeuppance. Darrell Rivers influenced me hugely as a child with a temper that I couldn’t always control, and she remains one of my favourite fictional characters. Not long afterwards, a friend bought me a book simply because it was on sale and she knew I loved to read. That book was A Problem for the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, and it sent me on a still-not-quite-completed quest to own the entire series.
The quest has not been without its complications. The book series, as I encountered it, consisted of 62 books, and it turned out that many of these had been edited for paperback publication. I then learned that there were actually only 58 books, but some titles had been split in two for paperback publication. As I scoured second-hand bookshops and the internet (a trickier proposition at the time!), I discovered that although the Chalet School series had been in more or less continuous print since 1925, not every title had been republished in every print cycle. In other words, there were titles that were almost impossible to find, especially if you were looking for the original, unedited texts. And then there were the connecting titles, many of which had never be republished at all.
In 2000, a group of Brent-Dyer fans decided to republish the La Rochelle series which had direct links to the Chalet School books, and had been out of print for decades. On the back of their success with this, they established Girls Gone By Publishing (GGBP), an independent publishing house which aimed to reprint Brent-Dyer’s works, and the works of other forgotten Girls’ Own authors. Thanks to their efforts, I’ve read some truly wonderful books that I would otherwise never have come across. But, and this is where the Things I Want title comes into play, it’s 2016 and they still haven’t published the entirety of the Chalet School series.
Now I get that it’s their company, and I’m grateful to them for being so passionate about something I love, but 16 years later, I just really want the whole series in this one format, unedited and with original illustrations included. It’s selfish, but I want it! Part of what frustrates me is that GGBP have republished several of the rarer Chalet School titles more than once. That’s clearly due to demand, but it means that the titles that are commonly available keep dropping to the bottom of the publication schedule, making me wonder if I’ll ever own the entire, unedited series.
So there you have it. The (Selfish) Things I Want.
I really need to stop browsing the ‘currentlyreading’ tag on Instagram because I keep stumbling across excellent-looking books that I really want to read, and my TBR list is already ridiculous…