A Monster Calls

Title: A Monster Calls

Author: Patrick Ness

Summary: The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4.5/5

Review: When i bought this book from my local comic book shop, the guy behind the counter warned me to have a box of tissues nearby when i read it. He wasn’t wrong.

The story is a simple one, but one well told, with depth and meaning not immediately obvious. It’s hard, reading about Conor coping (or not) with his mother’s illness whilst also trying to navigate life with a grandmother he doesn’t get on with, fights with friends, stand offs with enemies, and an all but absent father. His visits from the monster are almost a relief… taking him out of that world, but still, abstractedly, dealing with the issues from it.

This is a book that deals so well with grief, and loss, and change, and all the messy human emotions that people experience. And it does that so, so well. Never heavy-handed, never too vague. The story is a dark one, but manages to tell it with a certain lightness–an approachable ease; it wasn’t really until three quarters of the way through that it hit me in gut and pulled hard at my emotions.

And the artwork… they are something to get lost in. The full page spreads are packed with detail and texture, while the smaller pieces blend and weave with the words to make a more immersive reading experience. All the artwork is in black and white, and though in some ways that seems stark, in more ways it only enhances the importance of the story being told. The images are striking and bold while never drawing too much attention away from the words.

The end… well. The reader knows what’s coming, just like Conor. And just like Conor, it’s not easy to go through. But it is important.

I do think this is a five-star book, but i just can’t bring myself to give it five stars. It’s a very good and important book, but it’s also a hard book. It’s sad, and although i loved and appreciate it… i can’t celebrate it. If that makes any sort of sense?

TTT: Imprint Covers

Today’s topic is a cover-themed freebie. Usually i don’t like freebie weeks; i find it too open and can never narrow down an option. However, when my partner suggested imprint covers, i knew it was the one.

It’s as often an imprint i’m drawn to as it is an author. It’s great to see a book i don’t own or haven’t read by an author i like, but it feels pretty safe. Seeing an imprint i love of an author i haven’t heard of or have never read feels more like an exciting recommendation. I love that these imprints are recognisable in style and general design, while each book still have its own image, theme, or pattern. I love distinctive yet simple imprints–it makes me want to collect them all!

And so, these are the imprint covers/editions that when i catch sight of them in a bookshop, will drawn my attention and have me browsing with interest…

SF Masterworks

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Classics

 

 

 

 

 

Penguin Modern Classics

 

 

 

 

 

Penguin Classics

 

 

 

 

 

Penguin English Library

 

 

 

 

 

Gollancz 50

 

 

 

 

 

Collins Modern Classics

 

 

 

 

 

Collins Classics

 

 

 

 

 

Dover Thrift Editions

 

 

 

 

 

Faber Modern Classics

 

 

 

 

 

…Turns out i like classics–who knew? (Me. I knew.)

TTT: Deterrents

In the antithesis of last week… ten things that will put me off wanting to read a book.

This ended up being just as hard as the last list, too. Which surprised me, as i usually really enjoy talking about why i don’t like books! Somehow it’s different when it’s about choosing whether to read a book or not. Oh well. On with the list!

Young adult – This won’t automatically put me off a book, but when i find out a book is YA i get a bit more choosy on other criteria. YA tends to be a less-interesting read for me, so unless the story sounds superb, i won’t usually bother.

No female characters – I prefer a little more representation in my books, please. No boys club crap.

Love story focused – If the main plot is about or focused around a romance, i’ll likely pass. I’m just not that into it.

Character-driven – I do, on the odd occasion, enjoy a more character-driven story, but on the whole i prefer a more plot-focused narrative.

Bad writing – Nothing will put me off quicker, actually. Thankfully i haven’t started reading too many badly-written books (i’m looking at you, James Dashner), but snippets i’ve read from books have been bad enough to put me off.

Hype – Again, not something that will instantly have me dismissing a book, but something that will make me more wary. Often times, hype surrounds books that are… mediocre. I’ve read and enjoyed books that were wildly popular but i would still describe as mediocre. I’m just more picky about them when everyone’s singing their praises.

Tacky covers – Covers with a script font, or girls in big dresses. Covers with sullen looking teenagers or an obviously will-they, won’t-they couple. Covers with a close up eye or a popular tourist location. Urgh. No.

Uninspiring synopses – When the description is too vague and doesn’t actually reveal enough about the story to be enticing.

Being compared to another book – If i liked the books it’s being compared to, it’ll never live up to the comparison. If i disliked the book it’s being compared to, why would i want to read it? Just tell me why this book is good!

Hardback – Heavy and large and cumbersome and no, thank you.

I feel like a lot of the things listed here will be things plenty of other people who look for in a book. How do you feel on the matter?

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Ariel

Title: Ariel

Author: Sylvia Plath

Summary: Ariel, first published in 1965, contains many of Sylvis Plath’s best-known poems, written in an extraordinary burst of creativity just before her death in 1963. This is the collection on which her reputation as one of the most original and gifted poets of the twentieth century rests.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 1.5/5

Review: I’m aware i’m not well-versed in poetry, but i do keep trying. This, however, has been my most unsuccessful attempt yet. What the hell was this?

Plath is so revered as a writer and a poet, the reviews of this collection are flooded with four and five stars. I read The Bell Jar and i loved the prose, the writing style, the depth and emotion. But here, in these poems, i didn’t feel that. I didn’t feel… much of anything, to be honest.

I love the lyricism of poetry, the often ambiguous meaning but a more intense sentiment. I love that they can mean different things to different people, and even different things to the same person at different points in their life. I really enjoy music and lyrics for the same reason. Someone once pointed out to me that songs are poetry set to music, and i’d never considered that before, but i love it.

These poems, though, lacked any kind of lyricism to me. They didn’t flow, they didn’t convey emotional depth or meaning. I felt i needed some sort of key or cipher to translate and understand what i was reading–it read like gibberish! If anything, i felt confused and amused by most of it.

The other does that,
His hair long and plausive,
Bastard
Masturbating a glitter,
He wants to be loved.

…How the hell does one ‘masturbate a glitter’?

Three days. Three nights.
Lemon water, chicken
water, water make me retch

…Is it some kind of terrible cook book?

In eight great bounds, a great scapegoat.
Here is his slipper, here is another,
And here the square of white linen
He wore instead of a hat.
He was sweet

…Yeah, he sounds lovely?

I’m sure in some way, to someone, these poems make sense. The tens of thousands of positive reviews mean i must be one of the few people they don’t make sense to. Alas.

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TTT: Enticements

It’s been a while since my last top ten Tuesday, but i only jump in for topics that spark my interest and imagination, which this week did.

I actually found it quite hard to think of 10 things that make me want to read a book. There are many reasons i might be attracted to a book, but to try to articulate them ended up being trickier than i’d imagined. There’s no one thing that will guarantee my interest–i’ll always have to know more about a book–but the things listed here are what will draw my initial intrigue. These are the things that will entice me to find out more about a book and consider reading it.

Eye-catching cover – Surely this is a given? It’s the most obviously thing to catch a person’s eye. “Oh, that looks nice, what’s that about?”

Post-apocalyptic/dystopian – These settings are my weakness. The details surrounding it are important, but finding out a book is set in a post-apocalyptic and/or dystpoian world will get my eyebrows raised and my attention focused.

A hint at some sort of twist or major plot point omitted from the synopsis – If something is obviously being held back, and it’s revelation feels shocking and interesting enough, i’ll want to know more.

Strong female characters – Because i love them, i need more of them, all the time.

Recommendations – Either from people whose taste or opinion i trust/value, or based on my own opinion of something i’ve read. For example, when i’ve disliked a book and articulated why, people have recommended other books by the same author because they are more like what i might enjoy (and have been!).

Female/POC authors – This is something i’m consciously aiming for. When i come across a book by a female and/or POC author, i give it extra consideration as i actively want to increase the diversity of the books i read.

Author i already love – This list is longer than i think sometimes, but there are authors i love so much i’ll automatically be interested in their books.

Horror/sci-fi cross-genre – These are my two favourite genres, so when a book crosses both, i am suddenly very alert.

Fresh spin on an favourite concept – When a book takes a tried and tested idea and does something new with it, i’m excited to have my expectations challenged.

Short story collections – I loooooove short stories, so when i come across short story collections i get interested very fast!

Do any of these things pique your interest, or are they more likely to put you off?

The Darkening Sky

Title: The Darkening Sky

Author: Hugh Greene

Summary: Dr Power is recruited by Superintendent Lynch of the Cheshire Police to help him solve a murder in leafy Alderley Edge. Power and Lynch are challenged by a series of intense events and realise that they are both caught up in a desperate race against time.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I found this book via goodreads and was taken with both the summary and the cover. Since then i’ve entered about five or six goodreads giveaways for it–but it paid off, as i finally won one!

I was taken with the book and the story immediately. I work in the health service, so the hospital scenes and doctor/patient relationships really got me stuck into the story and this world. I took to Dr Power quickly, too. For a psychiatrist–for someone who can read people so well–and for one of the main characters in a crime-solving duo, he’s very laid back and almost timid. He’s not got anything near the ego you might expect, in fact he’s more unsure of himself than anything. And that’s rather endearing. Superintendent Lynch took a little longer for me to warm up to. As a copper and a religious man, the odds were against him, but overall these are only parts of his character, and often an interesting juxtaposition explored well in the book. Neither of these main characters is either what you’d expect or as simple as they may seem to be.

The writing was great. It was concise, without being pretentious or bloated, telling as much as was needed while still being descriptive and emotive. It made the book easy to read, while also being engaging and enjoyable. I also loved the few pieces of artwork in the book. The drawing style was striking and had a lot of character. There were only a few drawings, so the book was not overwhelmed with them, but they added an interesting extra when i came across them. The cover art is also great–it’s what drew me to the book in the first place. I love the style, and it’s the best cover i’ve seen for a self-published book.

Unfortunately, though, the book isn’t perfect. The biggest things i couldn’t forgive were issues i had with the plot. For the fact that Power is brought on a board as a psychiatrist for his insight… he doesn’t actually bring that much to the table. The fact that it was the sight of the killings that was the key was patently obvious to me from the get go. It undoubtedly helped that the reader has insight into the murderer during the events, but after the second killing at a remote place of historical interest, any investigator would look at the locations for some kind of link or pattern, surely? The fact that i had already put it together made Power’s revelation less than climatic. Linked to this, was Lynch’s hard-won support for the idea. I couldn’t understand how he was at first so resistant to the idea, simply because to him it didn’t make sense. He’s been in the job long enough to have made superintendent, i find it hard to believe he’s yet to come across a criminal whose motives didn’t make sense to him, personally. And then, of course, the rest of the police force and the press, who find the whole theory a load of mumbo jumbo, despite the fact it’s the only thing proving any link between the murders. It made me roll my eyes, honestly.

The ending wasn’t what I had suspected, which was good (i like to be surprised), but it did lack a little something. It felt a little too easily concluded after everything that had been put in. (I hate to say it, but i liked my own ending better.) The first chapter was such an excellent set up, it was so intriguing and posed so many questions. But then the end didn’t really tie back to that, or make any further reference to it, which i think was a shame. Even just a last paragraph, alluding to the fact that a Dr Allen or Dr Ashton had been trying to contact Power would have given me a wry grin and rounded the book off perfectly.

Overall, i enjoyed the book a lot. I loved the characters and although it had its faults, the plot was interesting enough. On the whole i think the book suffered with trying to introduce its characters and build on their new relationships, as well as carry the story. I’m hoping that with Power and Lynch’s friendship and respect for each other established, the sequels can fully explore more interesting plots while pulling this new duo along for the ride. I do plan on reading them, so i’ll find out soon!

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In the Flesh

Title: In the Flesh

Author: Cliver Barker

Summary: Terrifying and forbidding, subversive and insightful, Clive Barker’s groundbreaking stories revolutionized the worlds of horrific and fantastical fiction and established Barker’s dominance over the otherworldly and the all-too-real. Here, as two businessmen encounter beautiful and seductive women and an earnest young woman researches a city slum, Barker maps the boundless vistas of the unfettered imagination–only to uncover a profound sense of terror and overwhelming dread.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I disliked the last Clive Barker book i read enough that i didn’t think i’d ever pick up another. But when i discovered one of the creepiest films from my youth–Candyman–was based on Barker’s short story The Forbidden, i had to get my hands on a copy.

I was shocked and happy as soon as i started reading the first of the four stories, In the Flesh. It was instantly one of those stories where you know something isn’t right, where things aren’t what they seem, where there’s more to be revealed. It’s the kind of story that keeps my interest and keeps me reading. The characters were criminals, imprisoned, but they were sympathetic and likeable; i was scared for them and that had me invested in the story.

The second story was the one i’d been waiting for–The Forbidden. Much of it was familiar to me, having seen the Candyman film enough times. The creepy vibe of the film, and the Candyman himself in particular, came through in satisfying ways. But the story created even more, i think, than the film. The eerie, isolated feeling of the housing estate and the peculiar social structure are such banal things, but increase the macabre feeling in the story intensely. It draws on similar themes as High Rise, but with more of a horror twist and i loved it.

The Madonna is the third story in the book, and overall the weakest in a lot of ways. I hated the two main characters, so welcomed any nightmarish retribution that came their way. This was the one horror that i wanted to know more about, though. How did it/they end up inhabiting the pool? Do all their women come to them in the same way? What exactly happens to the creatures they raise? Where did they all go at the end? And in someways i think this was the story that dealt with more interesting themes and non-horror concepts. It’s the one story, maybe, that would work well as a longer story.

Lastly there was Babel’s Children. This one i liked a lot. It marked itself as different in almost every way from the other stories. It was obviously not a supernatural horror–it was a human one. Unlike The Madonna i feel like i got exactly the right amount of information to tell the story, without it begging more questions or being too full of answers. It was more like a mini adventure with an is-it-or-isn’t-it premise that was pretty delightful, actually. All the characters were likeable and it even made me smile. The end wasn’t sombre, but it did have weight and an unspoken captivity.

With not one story i didn’t enjoy, compared to the 700+ novel that failed to engage me, it’s clear Barker is a far, far more accomplished short story teller. While i’m unlikely to pick up one of his novels, i won’t hesitate to jump into another of his short story collections.

The Road Through the Wall

Title: The Road Through the Wall

Author: Shirley Jackson

Summary: In Pepper Street, an attractive suburban neighbourhood filled with bullies and egotistical bigots, the feelings of the inhabitants are shallow and selfish: what can a neighbour do to triumph over another neighbour, what may be won from a friend? One child stands alone in her goodness: little Caroline Desmond, kind, sweet and gentle, and the pride of her family. But the malice and self-absorption of the people of Pepper Street lead to a terrible event that will destroy the community of which they are so proud.

Exposing the murderous cruelty of children, and the blindness and selfishness of adults, Shirley Jackson reveals the ugly truth behind a ‘perfect’ world.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: The first Jackson novel i have given less than four stars to. I’m not sure if i’m more disappointed in the book or myself.

It’s classic Jackson. She takes the suburban setting of Pepper Street with its various families, and simply following them in their daily routines shows them as slightly off. Exposing their idiosyncrasies and private relationships in subtle, slowly creepy ways. Children had budding malice, marriages had simmering hatred, families had rivalries and favourites, neighbours had polite distaste, and everyone had secrets.

I simply found, for my tastes, it wasn’t quite creepy enough. I think perhaps the book has not aged well; the concept of secrets and not all being as it seems beneath the surface of happy families is so common these days on TV and in film. The secrets and lies that have been explored and exposed in modern media has been so much more extreme, that Jackson’s attempt here just isn’t shocking.

The plot was minimal; it was much more of a character study with mini stories throughout. I liked this concept, but overall it didn’t leave me with the drive to keep reading. Long chapters with no arc or obvious advancement of the story didn’t help. Although i enjoyed reading when i did, i didn’t think about the book much when i wasn’t reading.

Talking of characters, there are a lot. Almost all were families, with all adults being referenced as “Mr X” or “Mrs Y”. I found it hard to keep track of most of them, relying on context to remember each character’s story and personality, rather than simply their names. It made for a hard slog, and often I’d be halfway through a particular section before realising who it was about and the full meaning of what was happening. There were only a handful of characters i remembered strongly enough by name alone, and for only this reason, they became my favourites. Though, with the nature of the book, i didn’t like any of the characters–and that’s a positive point as far as i’m concerned!

Although this is far from my favourite, it is so quintessentially Jackson. A slow-moving, quiet, unassumingly sinister tale. I would have just liked it to be a little more sinister.

Nimona

nimonaTitle: Nimona

Author: Noelle Stevenson

Summary: Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: In contrast to the last book i read, i had no expectations of this one. I heard about it somewhere, thought it looked fun, bought it. By the time i finally picked it up to read, well… i was in love by the end of page two.

Where do i start? It’s hard when i really did love everything about this book. Its premise is wonderfully subversive. Our two main characters are the villains, working to expose and overthrown the heroes and their institution. It’s been said that to the villain of a story, they see themselves as the protagonist–in this book, they are the protagonists. And this book is funny. Perfectly, wonderfully, brilliantly funny. Just the perfect about of silly, heartfelt and witty.

Nimona is an absolute joy. She’s straight-talking, smart, silly and brave. She can be any shape she wants to, and as standard she chooses a plus-size, shaven-head, short-skirt-wearing kick-arse woman. She is my favourite. Blackheart is a bloody sweetheart! Sad and angry about his past, he’s a villain who lacks the passion for evil, while constantly showing compassion. I could happily read about this crime-committing duo for many, many more comics.

Ambrosius… has a fantastic name. He was purposely vapid at first, i think–a play on the attractive but ultimately dull hero. As his past with Blackheart is revealed, however, he becomes more complex, interesting, and likable. His and Blackheart’s relationship was wonderfully played out, so subtle but with such depth. Blitzmeyer is another delight. Incredibly smart and incredibly peculiar, she won me over swiftly. I only wish there had been more of her.

The art in this comic was enchanting. Bright, bold, and clear, with cute little details like Nimona’s piercings, Blackheart’s scars, and subtle use of shades. I often wanted to whizz quickly over panels to follow the story i was so engrossed in, but i kept making myself pause to fully appreciate the action- and emotion-focused panels. They are gorgeous. The sketches at the end of the book are lovely, too. To see the development and evolution of Nimona, and how that is reflected in her various hair dos, poses and facial expressions was nice to have.

Honestly, i don’t have a bad word to say about this book. Which is why it’s got five stars. The only (very mildly) annoying thing about the entire experience is that i’ve spent the last few days with Guster’s Ramona in my head… “Nimona, where have you been?”

Lagoon

lagoonTitle: Lagoon

Author: Nnedi Okorafor

Summary: A star falls from they sky. A woman rises from the sea. The world will never be the same.

Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria’s legendary mega-city, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before.

But when something like a meteorite hits the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they’ve never imagined. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world… and themselves.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: Science fiction, gorgeous cover, female POC author–i was all over this book! I also already had my eye on several other books by Okorafor, and really wanted to enjoy her writing enough to want to rush out and get them. Suffice it to say, my hopes and expectations were high, and i think it was those expectations that let it down the most.

The opening was great. Being in the point of view of a sea creature, but not fully knowing which, why or what they were doing was intriguing. It was these small, seemingly random points of views throughout the book that i enjoyed the most. The swordfish, the bat, the monsters, spider the artist, the unspecified humans and aliens amongst the chaos of Lagos. I could have read and enjoyed the entire book told this way, to be honest. On the flip side of this, I found the point of view shifts between the main characters a bit choppy. Sometimes the point of view would switch mid-chapter or even mid-paragraph, which could be jarring and hard to following. Though overall i did enjoy getting to know all the characters through their own points of view.

The characters were… lacklustre, honestly. Adaora, Anthony and Adu all felt rather composed (both in themselves and as works of fiction). They expressed emotion, but in very muted and controlled ways–i never felt it along with them. Ayodele i enjoyed much more. She was also quite dispassionate, but as part of her character. She was rational, pragmatic, and realistic about events (most of the time…). After Ayodele, my favourite character by far was Kola. She was so curious and brave and lovely.

There were a lot of characters, but despite reading it quite bitty chunks and not picking up the book for stretches of days, i had no problems remembering who was who and what their story lines were. And of course, as the book’s cover suggests, the ocean creatures are important characters themselves–ones i would have liked to get to know a little more!

There is a lot going on in the book, a lot of threads and themes and ideas. They don’t all get fully explored; some are dropped in with little explanation and others barely hinted at. The concept of the monsters that were already here on earth and Udide Okwanka was one of the threads that interested me the most. The idea that they are here, that humans didn’t even know it, but the aliens seemed to understand them perfectly. We get very little information about them, and that both pleases and frustrates me.

In some ways, i was annoyed that the main storyline took away from these other themes and ideas–the parts of the book i wanted to know more about. The bulk of the book focused on our four main characters, but the plot did not seem to move very quickly. At times it felt like a struggle to pick up the book, not because i didn’t enjoy it, but because there was nothing driving it; i was not often left needing to know what happened next.

I definitely think i would have enjoyed this book more without putting so much of my own hope and expectation on it. And with that in mind, I do plan on venturing into more books by Okorafor. The question now is, which ones?

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