This journal is semi-friends only, meaning that most of my posts are locked. If, for some crazy reason, you've decided to friend me, please leave a comment to let me know :)
(Banner by 24_amends)
I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately, for various reasons, so here’s a post that should be about what I read last week but is actually about the (alarmingly) few things I’ve read since mid-October. (Honestly, I need to stop playing Star Trek: Timelines so much. And procrastinating because I haven’t got any images ready. That would help too. Oh, and I could probably give reading fan-fiction a miss for a little while…)
The new camp counselor, Seafarin’ Karen breathes some fresh life into this volume of Lumberjanes, but her presence is (sadly) short-lived. I’m so-so on Lumberjanes at the moment, I must admit. I loved the first few volumes but five and six have been a bit more hit and miss. Still, the girls themselves remain awesome and there are wormholes in this one, which is always a plus.
Over on my Instagram account, I captioned a picture of this book with the following: “A low-key yet incredibly disturbing read.” And I really can’t think of a better way to sum it up. Harry and Michel are guards in a luxury block of apartments that can only be accessed via the basement. They receive food drops from ‘the Organisation’ and otherwise have no contact with the outside world. First there is a mass exodus of residents, next their food drops become irregular, and then there is the third guard… The Guard is a carefully controlled book, passive, almost, in its telling. There are no hysterics or dramatic revelations and yet things get dark, people, they get really, really dark. It’s not a book for everyone, but it’s stuck with me, which I think is often the sign of something worth reading.
Go read this book! Honestly, you won’t regret it. It’s informative and charming and powerful, and definitely worth your time. My favourite thing about A History of Britain in 21 Women is how personal a book it is. These are 21 women who changed Britain, yes, but they’re also 21 women who made a deep impression on Jenni Murray herself. She doesn’t always agree with what they did or what they stood for, but her appreciation for their determination and strength is a deep and inspiring thing. To my surprise, there’s a chapter about Constance Markievicz, a leading figure in the 1916 Rising in Ireland, and the first woman to be elected to British parliament (as I have mentioned on this blog before, she did not take her seat). I was delighted to see her included, and also to see reference to the Sligo Women’s Suffrage Society (hup the women!), but dismayed at Murray’s pronunciation of Irish names, words and placenames (I listened to the audiobook). I mean, I laughed because they were ridiculous at time, but it can’t be that find to find someone to give you the correct pronunciation of common phrases and names, can it? Murray also had a lamentable habit of putting on accents, a quirk which was completely distracting during her chapters on Nancy Astor and Nicola Sturgeon (I mean, she didn’t even come close to the type of accent Nicola Sturgeon has!). These audio oddities aside, nothing can take away from the power of this passionate and articulate book.
On his way home from work one day, our protagonist gets out of his car, currently stuck in a traffic jam, and decides to run home because, and I’m not kidding, once when he was at University, he ran a marathon without training even a little bit. That really should have been a warning to me that I was not going to enjoy this book. Thirst is ostensibly about what happens to a community when all natural water disappears without warning (or explanation. The best we get is that maybe it ‘burned’). You’ll be shocked to hear that what happens is that everyone turns on each other and things get dark really fast. Eddie, for example, decides to rob his elderly neighbour while pretending to check she’s okay, not that he cares if she’s okay it’s just that his wife might and he wants to impress her. I think we’re supposed to point to the stressful set of circumstances as the reason for Eddie being a massive arsehole, but, honestly, it seems like he was an arsehole to begin with. The text is littered with references to Eddie trying to socially isolate his wife, and being a general dickhead to everyone around him, so, no, I didn’t find him sympathetic, I didn’t enjoy reading about him, and I think that a lot of what happened was actually his fault in the first place because he’s a massively self-involved, self-impressed wanker.
I can’t praise this adaptation enough. The cast are all spirited and sympathetic (one of the things that bugs me about the movie is how poorly Victoria Forrester comes across when, actually, she’s just a bit flighty), the narration is warm and amusing, the music is sparse yet perfectly used… Yeah, a pretty perfect adaptation, I have to say. Definitely recommended for fans of the book.
This book unfolds itself slowly, beautifully and heart-wrenchingly. The story of Thaniel, a clerk in the Home Office, Mori, a Japanese watchmaker, and an Irish Republican bombing campaign (sort of), it is quiet, complicated and wonderful. Steampunk meets detective story meets romance meets sci-fi meets fantasy meets magical realism meets historical fiction meets ‘hey! Foreigners and women are people too!’. There’s so much I want to say about The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, but my biggest enjoyment came from not knowing key elements in advance. Read carefully and closely, pay attention, and this book will reward you tenfold. Oh, and there’s a clockwork octopus. If that doesn’t interest you, I don’t know what will. (I HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS ABOUT THE ENDING SO I NEED SOMEONE TO FLAIL ABOUT IT TO!)
I had grand plans for this Sci-Fi Month and I have utterly, utterly failed to carry them out. So, as a last gasp effort, I looked at my recent reading for inspiration. As it turns out, without quite meaning to, I’ve ended up reading two climate change-related sci-fi novels back to back this month. As a genre, ‘cli-fi’ (ew) is very much in vogue so here are ten reads to get you started if you haven’t already dipped your toe into the apocalyptic waters, so to speak.
In a post-war, post-crash, post-disaster, post-everything world, the environmental-action trawler Kapital scours the earth’s oceans for its mysteriously missing sistership, The Massive. Captain Callum Israel, a man who has dedicated his life to the ocean, now must ask himself—as our planet dies—what it means to be an environmentalist after the world’s ended. Callum and his crew will come up against pirates, rebels, murderers, and thieves as they struggle to remain noble toward their cause. Can you save a planet that’s already doomed?
Conspiracies abound in this gripping graphic novel series where fresh water is a luxury item and no one is quite what they seem.
In a world prone to violent flooding, Britain, ravaged 20 years earlier by a deadly virus, has been largely cut off from the rest of the world. Survivors are few and far between, most of them infertile. Children, the only hope for the future, are a rare commodity.
For 22-year-old Roza Polanski, life with her family in their isolated tower block is relatively comfortable. She’s safe, happy enough. But when a stranger called Aashay Kent arrives, everything changes. At first he’s a welcome addition, his magnetism drawing the Polanskis out of their shells, promising an alternative to a lonely existence. But Roza can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to Aashay than he’s letting on. Is there more to life beyond their isolated bubble? Is it true that children are being kidnapped? And what will it cost to find out?
A dark story with an oddly light tone that serves to make it all the more sinister.
Lalla has grown up sheltered from the chaos amid the ruins of civilization. But things are getting more dangerous outside. People are killing each other for husks of bread, and the police are detaining anyone without an identification card. On her sixteenth birthday, Lalla’s father decides it’s time to use their escape route–a ship he’s built that is only big enough to save five hundred people.
But the utopia her father has created isn’t everything it appears. There’s more food than anyone can eat, but nothing grows; more clothes than anyone can wear, but no way to mend them; and no-one can tell her where they are going.
A dark and disturbing version of London as seen through the eyes of a sheltered teenager (thus the tone of the book itself is not dark and disturbing).
It’s November of 2020, and the world is freezing over, each day colder than the last. There’s snow in Israel; the Thames is overflowing; and an iceberg separated from the Fjords in Norway is expected to drift just off the coast of Scotland. As ice water melts into the Atlantic, frenzied London residents evacuate by the thousands for warmer temperatures down south–but not Dylan. Grieving and ready to build life anew, he heads north to bury his mother’s and grandmother’s ashes on the Scottish islands where they once lived.
Hundreds of miles away, twelve-year-old Estella and her survivalist mother, Constance, scrape by in the snowy, mountainous Highlands, preparing for a record-breaking winter. Living out of a caravan, they spend their days digging through landfills, searching for anything with restorative and trading value. When Dylan arrives in their caravan park in the middle of the night, life changes course for Estella and Constance. Though the weather worsens, his presence brings a new light to daily life, and when the ultimate disaster finally strikes, they’ll all be ready.
A quiet, calm novel that puts the T from LGBT at the core of an intimate story about the end of the world.
The snow doesn’t stop. It falls and falls and falls. Until it lies three miles thick across the whole of the Earth. Six billion people have died. A few thousand survive. But those few thousand need help, they need support, they need organising, governing. And so the lies begin.
Spoiler alert: this book does not live up to it’s potential 🙁
Coursing through an eternal winter, on an icy track wrapped around the frozen planet Earth, there travels a train that never stops. This is Snowpiercer: one thousand and one carriages long. The last bastion of human civilization. Or is it?
A second train also travels through the snow on the same track, its inhabitants living in constant fear of crashing into the first Snowpiercer. And from this second train, a small group of scavenging explorers now emerges, risking their lives in the deadly cold…
I can’t tell you how bad I think these comics are, but they are really flipping well reviewed by everyone who isn’t me! I love the idea, but hate the execution.
It’s in the rain…and just one drop will kill you.
They don’t believe it at first. Crowded in Zach’s kitchen, Ruby and the rest of the partygoers laugh at Zach’s parents’ frenzied push to get them all inside as it starts to drizzle. But then the radio comes on with the warning, “It’s in the rain! It’s fatal, it’s contagious, and there’s no cure.”
Two weeks later, Ruby is alone. Anyone who’s been touched by rain or washed their hands with tap water is dead. The only drinkable water is quickly running out. Ruby’s only chance for survival is a treacherous hike across the country to find her father-if he’s even still alive.
I really struggled with the main character in this, but I can’t deny how chilling the premise of the book is.
Thousands of them have lived underground. They’ve lived there so long, there are only legends about people living anywhere else. Such a life requires rules. Strict rules. There are things that must not be discussed. Like going outside. Never mention you might like going outside.
Or you’ll get what you wish for.
The first book in this trilogy is one of my best library finds from the last few years. Read it – you won’t be disappointed.
The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct and the half-destroyed cities have become uninhabitable through radiation. Beyond their boundaries, they say, lie endless burned-out deserts and the remains of splintered forests. Survivors still remember the past greatness of humankind, but the last remains of civilisation have already become a distant memory.
Man has handed over stewardship of the Earth to new life-forms. Mutated by radiation, they are better adapted to the new world. A few score thousand survivors live on, not knowing whether they are the only ones left on Earth, living in the Moscow Metrothe biggest air-raid shelter ever built. Stations have become mini-statelets, their people uniting around ideas, religions, water-filters, or the need to repulse enemy incursion.
VDNKh is the northernmost inhabited station on its line, one of the Metro’s best stations and secure. But a new and terrible threat has appeared. Artyom, a young man living in VDNKh, is given the task of penetrating to the heart of the Metro to alert everyone to the danger and to get help. He holds the future of his station in his hands, the whole Metroand maybe the whole of humanity.
I’ve actually only read Metro 2033, but I’ll get around to the others one day. She said optimistically.
On a searing summer Friday, Eddie Chapman has been stuck for hours in a traffic jam. There are accidents along the highway, but ambulances and police are conspicuously absent. When he decides to abandon his car and run home, he sees that the trees along the edge of a stream have been burnt, and the water in the stream bed is gone. Something is very wrong. When he arrives home, the power is out and there is no running water. The pipes everywhere, it seems, have gone dry. Eddie and his wife, Laura, find themselves thrust together with their neighbours while a sense of unease thickens in the stifling night air.
Thirst takes place in the immediate aftermath of a mysterious disaster – the Chapmans and their neighbours suffer the effects of the heat, their thirst, and the terrifying realisation that no one may be coming to help. As violence rips through the community, Eddie and Laura are forced to recall secrets from their past and question their present humanity. In crisp and convincing prose, Ben Warner compels readers to do the same. What might you do to survive?
Another missed opportunity, in my opinion, with a poorly-explored but solid premise.
A follow up to last year’s post (from which I’ve since read the majestic total of three books…)
This classic of science (and mathematical) fiction — charmingly illustrated by author — describes the journeys of A. Square and his adventures in Spaceland (three dimensions), Lineland (one dimension) and Pointland (no dimensions). A. Square also entertains thoughts of visiting a land of four dimensions — a revolutionary idea for which he is banished from Spaceland.
One of the many sci-fi classics I’ve yet to get around to reading.
A novel about the end of the world–and the beginning of our future
Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.
But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca of San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together–to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.
A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.
I received this from my The Broke and the Bookish Secret Santa last year, and it had been on my wishlist since its initial publication. Have I read it yet? Of course not.
They’ve died for the companies more times than they can remember. Now they must fight to live for themselves.
Sentient machines work, fight and die in interstellar exploration and conflict for the benefit of their owners – the competing mining corporations of Earth. But sent over hundreds of light-years, commands are late to arrive and often hard to enforce. The machines must make their own decisions, and make them stick.
With this new found autonomy come new questions about their masters. The robots want answers. The companies would rather see them dead.
The Corporation Wars: Dissidence is an all-action, colorful space opera giving a robot’s-eye view of a robot revolt
I’ve only had this one since last week (I went to an author event where I was lucky enough get my copy signed by Ken MacLeod) so I’m cutting myself some slack on not having read this yet. The problem is that I said that last year about A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers which – you’ve guessed it! – remains unread.
A Handmaid’s Tale for our times, this exhilarating novel pits political oppression against the will to survive, in a nightmarishly believable vision of Britain in the near future.
Following its union with the United States and a series of disastrous foreign wars, Britain is in the grip of a severe crisis; the country is now under the control of The Authority.
But up in the far north of Cumbria, Jackie and a group of fellow rebel women have escaped The Authority’s repressive regime and formed their own militia. Sister, brought to breaking point by the restrictions imposed on her own life, decides to join them. Though her journey is frightening and dangerous, she believes her struggle will soon be over. But Jackie’s single-minded vision for the army means that Sister must decide all over again what freedom is, and whether she is willing to fight for it.
I picked this up at a library book sale in 2011 (!). It’s dystopian, features LGBT relationships AND was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke award, so why haven’t I read it yet?
A propulsive science fiction tale of murder and memory, all set on a futuristic space station.
Hundreds of miles above Earth, the space station Ciudad de Cielo – The City in the Sky – is a beacon of hope for humanity’s expansion into the stars. But not everyone aboard shares such noble ideals.
Bootlegging, booze, and prostitution form a lucrative underground economy for rival gangs, which the authorities are happy to turn a blind eye to until a disassembled corpse is found dancing in the micro-gravity.
In charge of the murder investigation is Nikki “Fix” Freeman, who is not thrilled to have Alice Blake, an uptight government goody-two-shoes, riding shotgun. As the bodies pile up, and the partners are forced to question their own memories, Nikki and Alice begin to realize that gang warfare may not be the only cause for the violence.
Described by the author as a traditional noir novel that happens to be set in space. Sign me up! I picked this up (and got it signed by the author) at the same event as The Corporation Wars: Dissidence, so it’s a new entry to the list.
The Quantum Bomb of 2015 changed everything. The fabric that kept the universe’s different dimensions apart was torn and now, six years later, the people of earth exist in uneasy company with the inhabitants of, amongst others, the elfin, elemental, and demonic realms. Magic is real and can be even more dangerous than technology. Elves are exotic, erotic, dangerous, and really bored with the constant “Lord of the Rings” references. Elementals are a law unto themselves and demons are best left well to themselves.
Special agent Lila Black used to be pretty, but now she’s not so sure. Her body is more than half restless carbon and metal alloy machinery, a machine she’s barely in control of. It goes into combat mode, enough weapons for a small army springing from within itself, at the merest provocation. As for her heart, well, ever since being drawn into a game by the elfin rockstar Zal (lead singer of the No Shows), who she’s been assigned to protect, she’s not even sure she can trust that any more either.
Okay, I only have the first and fourth books in the series, but I’ve had them for aaaaages now and they sound like such a delightful combination of genres (there are negative reviews calling it a romance novel in disguise and, honestly, I’m right into that aspect of it).
HISTORY HAPPENED WHILE YOU WERE HUNGOVER.
When you haven’t had sex in a long time, it feels like the worst thing that is happening to anyone anywhere. If you’re living in Germany in the 1930s, it probably isn’t. But that’s no consolation to Egon Loeser, whose carnal misfortunes will push him from the experimental theatres of Berlin to the absinthe bars of Paris to the physics laboratories of Los Angeles, trying all the while to solve two mysteries: whether it was really a deal with Satan that claimed the life of his hero, the great Renaissance stage designer Adriano Lavicini; and why a handsome, clever, charming, modest guy like him can’t, just once in a while, get himself laid. From the author of the acclaimed Boxer, Beetle comes a historical novel that doesn’t know what year it is; a noir novel that turns all the lights on; a romance novel that arrives drunk to dinner; a science fiction novel that can’t remember what ‘isotope’ means; a stunningly inventive, exceptionally funny, dangerously unsteady and (largely) coherent novel about sex, violence, space, time, and how the best way to deal with history is to ignore it.
LET’S HOPE THE PARTY WAS WORTH IT.
This was really well received, but I can’t lie – I’m mostly in it for the cover.
In Mary’s world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?
I have been in love with the name of this series since I first glimpsed the first book on a library shelf. I’ve bought the entire trilogy and yet, and yet, and yet… *sigh*
A chilling dystopian classic crime story from the godfather of Scandinavian crime fiction
In an unnamed country, in an unnamed year sometime in the future, Chief Inspector Jensen of the Sixteenth Division is called in after the publishers controlling the entire country’s newspapers and magazines receive a threat to blow up their building, in retaliation for a murder they are accused of committing. The building is evacuated, but the bomb fails to explode and Jensen is given seven days in which to track down the letter writer.
Jensen has never had a case he could not solve before, but as his investigation into the identity of the letter writer begins it soon becomes clear that the directors of the publishers have their own secrets, not least the identity of the ‘Special Department’ on the thirty first floor; the only department not permitted to be evacuated after the bomb threat.
I nabbed a copy of this from a library book sale when I realised it had a sci-fi bent. It’s super short and I could probably zoom through it in a couple of hours, but we all know that’s probably not going to happen any time soon.
I had a new schedule for this blog all worked out (it needs a new layout too, but I’m not quite ready for that) but then an unexpected trip back home put a halt to everything. I had some Hallowe’en-type posts more or less ready to go, but I think I’m going to skip over them rather than putting myself behind for Sci-Fi Month (yay! Sci-Fi Month!). Plus, I haven’t touched a book since my last Read Last Week post, leaving my reading exploits limited to two magazines (both Christmas themed because I’m a sucker who tells myself not to look at Christmas stuff until after Hallowe’en and then never sticks to it) and a bunch of posts over at Ask A Manager. So here’s a Weekly Miscellany post instead of all the things I’ve just mentioned. (Rambly intros are rambly.)
Warning: I tried to catch up on my reading over the weekend so this post is loooong!
Big Mushy Happy Lump – Sarah Andersen. A mixture of new material and a selection of comic strips from the author’s popular Sarah’s Scribbles online series. Both fun and funny, Big Mushy Happy Lump makes universal experiences hilarious and takes a touching look at how anxiety issues can affect people.
The Awkward Squad – Sophie Henaff. Anne Capestan has been suspended from the Paris police for being too gun-happy. Fully expecting to be fired, she is surprised to be given command of her own squad with a remit over cold cases instead. The squad, it is explained, will be made up of all the officers the higher-ups would like to fire but who must be kept on for one reason or another. Undaunted, Anne dives head-first into bringing her squad together, determined that they will not be seen as a laughing stock. I’m not much of a crime reader, but the cover of The Awkward Squad drew me in and I’m glad it did. A true police procedural with a suitably twisty mystery at its heart, The Awkward Squad had a pleasantly light tone, even when dealing with dark things. The characters quickly go from obvious tropes (the drunk, the gambler, the bad luck charm) to well-drawn and (mostly) likeable people, with their own motivations and back stories. Of particular note is Lebreton, an officer who was denied extended leave after his husband died because, well, gay relationships aren’t as serious as straight ones, are they? Here’s hoping book two in the series gets translated into English soon.
The Black Monday Murders, Vol. 1: All Hail, God Mammon – Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker. Describing itself as a ‘crypto-noir’ series, The Black Monday Murders reveals the cabal who control the world’s financial markets through the use of black magic and being utter pricks. There are a lot of people on Goodreads who love this but I can’t understand why. Its greatest sin is that it’s boring.
The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney. Nominated for a bunch of awards, The Glorious Heresies has been on my radar pretty much since the day it came out, which can be a dangerous thing. High expectations do not always lead to an enjoyable reading experience. Luckily, The Glorious Heresies lives up to the hype. Humorous and horrific, gorgeous and graphic, the language soars, enveloping the reader in the underbelly of a Cork that is harsh and unforgiving. We open with Maureen, a victim of Ireland’s relationship with the Catholic church, who has just cracked an intruder over the head with a holy relic. He is, it seems, dead so the accidental murderer calls her son, Cork’s leading gangster, for help. From there we spiral out, following a range of characters as they move through the city, their stories overlapping, colliding and pushing apart. I actually listened to the audiobook version which was superbly narrated by Shelley Atkinson, whose accent combined beautifully with the language of the book. Have you guessed that I loved it yet? RECOMMENDED.
Dracula (BBC Radio Full-Cast Dramatisation) – Bram Stoker. Given that this adaptation was by Liz Lochhead, I had high hopes for it. They were not realised. There is very little to recommend this version of Dracula apart from Tom Hiddleston’s lovely voice (even David Suchet fell short for me). Without a narrator, events seems choppy and disconnected. Mina fell far short of the strong-willed, independent character I expect her to be, coming across as a whinging, somewhat feeble sort, while Lucy was endlessly annoying and the supporting characters were both useless and over the top. A total miss.
The House at the End of Hope Street – Menna van Praag. A promising debut featuring a magical house and the women who call it home. After crashing out of her studies at Cambridge, Alba has no idea what to do next. She comes across a house she’s never seen before but that she feels compelled to visit. A sort of half-way house across the generations, the house at the end of Hope Street allows women to stay for ninety nine nights, giving them time to sort out what’s gone wrong in their lives. When Alba moves in she meets the current residents, as well as a ghost and magical photographs of previous residents who have rather a lot of say for themselves. Overall, a quietly charming read with some easily overlooked weaknesses (Alba’s academic disgrace is not the most convincing, some of the characters are little more than a bunch of tropes bound together, and is it really possible to be so in love with someone you’ve almost never spoken to?).
The Dress Shop of Dreams – Menna van Praag. The problems hovering in the background of The House at the End of Hope Street move into the foreground here and we suffer through a series of literary cliches (I’ve been in love with you since we were children but never said! I didn’t realise I loved you until I thought I was going to lose you!) that culminate in the desperation of a periphery character and the spinelessness of our ‘hero’ combining into an uncomfortable situation where somehow everyone wins despite having been pretty despicable people. There was definitely charm in this (Etta’s dresses and the magic imbued in them was delightful, though I couldn’t help but feel it was weird to have a brand new character running the dress shop when the last book established that Greer had a talent for dressmaking) but the central love story was far from romantic. (A particular dislike of mine when it comes to romance reads is when the hero already has a girlfriend and we’re supposed to think it’s a-okay if not even better for the heroine to displace the girlfriend because the heroine and the hero are written in the stars and no one cares about the girlfriend who’s just a plot device and should really just disappear to save everyone from having to think about her ever again. Ahem.) There’s also a weird subplot about entrapment via pregnancy which is uncomfortable to begin with but which is never really concluded.
The Witches of Cambridge – Menna van Praag. Ugh. No. The charm of the first two books moves right to the background (a group of witches meet for a monthly book group floating above the Cambridge rooftops!) and all we’re given is problematic development after problematic development. There are too many characters and almost none of those characters are well enough developed. If there’s a subplot you’re enjoying, chances are it won’t be delved into in any meaningful way. What I think is supposed to be the main story (Amandine meets a mysterious man who takes away her power to see people’s secrets and is, like, totes happy about) turns into a story that is basically the first season of Jessica Jones but told in a tone that implies that the constant mind rape is not as horrifying as it actually is. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Illustration: What’s The Point? A Book of Illustrated Illustrations that Illustrate Illustration – Mouni Feddag. Charmingly illustrated but this look at illustration and how it works and brings nothing new to the table.
Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover – Paul Buckley (ed.). A romp through recent cover design for the Penguin Classics imprint. Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover includes interviews with the Penguin team and the outside illustrators they have used, which explain the process of commissioning and producing a cover. It doesn’t shy away from missteps, which is an interesting peak behind the scenes that I hadn’t expected to be included, and it features some rejected covers (some of which really shouldn’t have been reject, IMO!). Brilliant.
Abstract City – Christoph Niemann. Snapshots from the artist’s life told through a variety of mediums. To describe it in one word – playful.
Sunday Sketching – Christoph Niemann. A meditation on the realities of being a working artist, focusing on the doubts Niemann has about his own work and what he does to not only try to overcome and/or ignore them, but to keep pushing himself forward. Another wonderful volume, and one that employed an illustration style I really enjoyed.
The Rabbits – John Marsden & Shaun Tan. A hauntingly dark, intricately illustrated, look at colonialism and environmentalism. Deceptively simple writing that packs a massive punch.
We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I don’t agree with the assertion that a thousand years ago physical strength was necessary and that’s why men were in charge but I agree with everything else this inspiring manifesto has to say. PREACH!!!
Lumberjanes, Volume 1: Beware the Kitten Holy – Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis et. al. A group of girls at summer camp happen upon mysterious goings on in the woods. Still just as excellent as the first time I read it. There’s wacky humour, zany antics and friendship that’s as pure as the driven snow <3
Lumberjanes, Volume 2: Friendship to the Max – Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis et. al. It’s weird but the addition of Ancient Greek mythology detracts from a lot of stuff for me and Friendship to the Max was no exception. Still, Jen gets to awesome! Jo turns to stone! Ultimate power is bestowed upon Ripley! Everyone gets kittens!
Lumberjanes, Volume 3: A Terrible Plan – Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis et. al. The gang tell ghost stories before splitting into two groups. Whilst Mal and Molly go on a date and learn that bravery means different things to different people, Jo, April and Ripley discover that earning basic Lumberjanes badges may be harder than defeating an all-powerful supernatural being. Bummer. A fun volume, but one that felt slightly adrift as the series tried to find its way after completing its original story arc.
Lumberjanes, Volume 4: Out of Time – Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis et. al. Holy Mae Jemison! There’s a monster in the mountain! An ongoing storyline solidifies as we learn more about the history of Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types.
Lumberjanes, Volume 5: Band Together – Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis et. al. The gang try to reunite a band – of Mermaids. A Merband!! Wait, electricity works under water? Are we sure? Okay, cool.
Mermaids! Merpeople! Merwomyn! Mergirls!!
Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy – Chynna Clugston Flores et. al. Although I’m a fan of both series, this didn’t work for me. Readers are flung straight in, with no recap of who the characters are. Even as someone who’s read both titles I would have appreciated a little overview given that the cast is pretty wide. Setting Lumberjanes in the same universe as Batman also doesn’t work for me because it makes the strange goings on in Lumberjanes a lot less strange. Weird supernatural creatures, alternate dimensions and unreliable pockets of time don’t seem that out of the ordinary in a world filled with superheroes/villains. Finally, there was the story itself, a decent 80s pastiche that fell flat in the writing. There was a lot of dialogue and yet very little of it had any kind of spark. Professor MacPherson (she of the terribly written accent) did say ‘bampot’ though, so that was fun.
Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire, Vols. 1-3 – Naoki Serizawa. This has all the elements needed for a good story – an isolated boarding school, an unexplained zombie outbreak, a cover-up, Chris Redfield…. Sadly, despite being supremely violent (yay!) and unnecessarily sexualised (boo!), this series is just bad. The plot needs a lot of hand-waving to hold together, the characters are paper-thin (no pun intended), and the writing seems to be aimed at the reading comprehension of an eight year old. There are two more volumes of this dreck, but luckily my local library system hasn’t bought them (ordinarily this would annoy me – order the whole series, damnit! – but they get a pass this time).
Hitler in Cartoons – Tony Husband (ed.). The introduction to Hitler in Cartoons is bombastic, to put it mildly, but the collection as a whole is so interesting that I can mostly overlook that weird misstep. Of particular note are the German cartoonists who lambasted Hitler during his rise to power. Also, did you know it was illegal to name your pet Adolf in Nazi Germany? Bonkers. A fascinating look at how Hitler was portrayed in Allied-friendly publications during his time in power (and I would absolutely love a companion volume that shows how he was shown by the pro-Axis press).
Paula Rego: Jane Eyre – Paula Rego & Charlotte Bronte. Paul Rego’s disturbing artwork deftly captures the darkness at the heart of Jane Eyre and refuses to let our imaginations prettify it. There are no Hollywood beauties here. (PS, I really liked it.)
The Lubetkin Legacy – Marina Lewycka. Told from the varying perspectives of Berthold (Bertie) and Violet, The Lubetkin Legacy is a sometimes hilarious, sometimes distressing, oftentimes rambling look at the modern welfare state in Britain. There’s a lot to enjoy about this book – Lewycka’s trademark humour had me chuckling out loud more than once – but there’s a lot to struggle with as well. Bertie is a thoroughly unsympathetic character who feels entitled to everything and learns nothing, and it’s hard to read a novel with a character like that at its centre. Meanwhile, Violet was much more likeable but painfully naive and, to be honest, her sections added little to the main narrative of what is inescapably Bertie’s story. A funny read, but a frustrating one.
The Adventures of John Blake, Volume 1: Mystery of the Ghost Ship – Philip Pullman and Fred Fordham. An original graphic novel aimed at kids, The Adventures of John Blake follows the crew of the Mary Alice, a ship lost in time. Crewed by men from disparate centuries, the Mary Alice rescues a young Australia from drowning. As they try to get her home, they are tracked by a man who wishes them ill. A solid read, well paced and well plotted, with some nice sci-fi touches, but it didn’t really light my fire.
Little Women (BBC Radio 4 Full-Cast Dramatisation) – Louisa May Alcott. A charming full-cast audio adaptation that tells each of its chapters from the perspective of a different character, to great effect. My heart will never stop melting when Professor Bhaer shows up at the end (I don’t care if he’s a paternalistic prig).
The Arab of the Future, Volume 1: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984 – Riad Sattouf. A thoroughly immersive, faintly horrifying, memoir. Riad’s world is turned upside down when his father decides to move first to Libya and then on to Syria, both a shock to a boy born in France. Through his eyes we see day-to-day life under two regimes that promised much but delivered little. The art and colouring were fantastic, and the writing strong, but there were two sticking points for me. 1) Riad’s father is an unlikable combination of self-conceited and self-centered. We see nothing to explain why his Franch wife stays with him and moves to less than ideal places (to put it mildly) to please him. 2) The story is told from Riad’s perspective but it’s hard to overlook the unlikelihood of a small child having such detailed memories. Despite all of this, I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
Stars Above – Marissa Meyer. Although the stories in this volume don’t really add much to the world of The Lunar Chronicles, they’re immensely happy-making if you’re a fan. The strongest story by far is ‘The Little Android’, a reinvention of ‘The Little Mermaid’, while the final story, ‘Something Old, Something New’ is easily the weakest (too sentimental by half). Overall, an excellent read for fans of the series.
Goodnight Punpun, Volume 1 – Inio Asano. I wanted to like this, I really did. I tried to keep pushing forward, telling myself that at some point I’d start to enjoy the story more but it just never happened. So I returned the other two volumes to the library without reading them. Pun Pun is a schoolboy with an unhappy home life and an obsessive crush on a (worryingly intense) girl at his school. For some reason, he’s a bird. He’s also, to use Scottish parlance, a wee bam that I had absolutely no interest in reading about.
The Interview – Manuele Fior. Another disappointment. Set in 2048, we follow Raniero, a middle-aged psychologist who thinks it entirely appropriate to sleep with a patient despite, you know, ethics, and the fact that he’s married. Dora, the patient, floats around looking pretty and implying Raniero is special enough for her to commit to one man, something her futuristic ‘religion’ is not into because in the future we will all be vaguely telepathic and think that ‘communal’ love is the best. And somewhere in there there are aliens. Dreadful story, dreadful sci-fi, excellent artwork.
Printer’s Devil Court – Susan Hill. Meh. I think I might have enjoyed this more if I’d read it rather than listened to it as the narrator was not for me. It probably still would have been a bit underwhelming being that it’s basically a gothic horror story that could have been written during the 19th century rather than the 21st (which can be fine but can also be distinctly not terrifying to a modern audience, you know?).
Superman/Wonder Woman, Volume 5: A Savage End – Peter J. Tomasi and Doug Mahnke. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. This whole series has been a waste of time and energy but volume five takes the cake by being a bunch of issues that are part of larger stories that we don’t get to see. Choppy is an understatement.
I only had one book to add to this section (whaaaat?) until I caught up with all the blogs I follow and things escalated like always. Presented without comment because, frankly, I didn’t expect to have to present them at all.