Internal Wilderness

Title: Internal Wilderness

Author: Claire Scully

Summary: A journal of a sequence of events occurring over a period of time and location in space.

Based in London, freelance illustrator Claire Scully works in pen, ink and digital with a heavy focus on drawing. Her work explores a variety of themes including the relationship between ‘man’ and his environment. Internal Wilderness is part of an ongoing project looking at ‘landscape and memory’ – our relationship with the environment, effects we have on the world and space around us and in turn it’s profound affect on our own memory and emotions.

Each of these landscapes is a starting point to a much bigger adventure that strives to answer the question of what lays beyond the horizon. Within the space on each sheet of paper a world can be created either from a distant memory of a childhood holiday or from the desire to see parts of the world that for now are only dreamed about.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: With no words, this little book was a quick, but wonderful read. Each page shows a landscape: mountains, fields, lakes, forests… Each page is its own little escape. They are all set at night, with a full moon featuring in almost all of them. The light from the moon reflects back on the sea, on steams, on cloud cover and mist. The colour palette is black, white, and shades of blue. It’s all gorgeous.

I spent long minutes looking at these pages, taking in the art and the detail, but also letting go. I wondered if these were real places–real views. I let myself believe there was a corresponding spot on the earth somewhere where i could stand to see these images in real life. I also thought about places i have been where i’ve seen similar views, and the feelings i experienced there. The knowledge that the world is so vast, while i’m so small. How minute my own worries were in the face of that.

This book took me away for the time i was reading it, and the places it took me were lovely. It’s a book i’ll pick up again, when i need to escape, but can’t go anywhere.

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A Closed and Common Orbit

Title: A Closed and Common Orbit

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: Once, Lovelace had eyes and ears everywhere. She was a ship’s intelligence system – possessing a personality and very human emotions. But when her ship was badly damaged, Lovelace was forced to reboot and reset. Now housed in an illegal synthetic body, she’s never felt so isolated.

But Lovelace is not alone. Pepper, an engineer who risked her life to reinstall Lovelace’s program, has remained by her side and is determined to help her.

Because Pepper knows a think or two about starting over.

Pepper was born Jane 23, part of a slave class created by a rogue society of genetic engineers. At ten years old, she had never seen the sky. But when an industrial accident gave Jane 23 a chance to escape, she jumped at the opportunity to leave her captivity.

Now, recreated as Pepper, she makes it her mission to help Lovelace discover her own place in the world. Huge as the galaxy may be, it’s anything but empty.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I loved everything about the first book in the Wayfarers series, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. And i am indescribably happy that i can say the same thing for this stand-alone sequel.

Where Angry Planet gave us several main characters, flew us all over the galaxy, and introduced us to multiple worlds, species, and cultures, Common Orbit focuses on two main characters and remains firmly on the ground of two planets. The book still offers so much about this universe–more species and cultures and day-to-day details–but along with that, it focuses more on the depth of and the connection between the two main characters. It immerses the reader more fully into the lives and planets of these two, and they are fascinating places to be.

I loved all the characters, which was a surprise and a delight. Sidra was intelligent and thoughtful, though at times quite stubborn and short-sighted. She occasionally read like a selfish teenager having a tantrum, but as a freshly re-booted AI in a new synthetic human body, i read it as her developing much like biological humans do–and being a moody, selfish teenager is a part of that. Pepper was brilliant. Caring, selfless, intuitive. We see her literally through her moody teenage years and out the other side. The parallels drawn and differences highlighted between Sidra and Pepper, and their respective time lines, were the true essence of the book for me. What it means to be human–what is means to be alive–what it means to be. The supporting characters were all wonderful. Sweet, steadfast Blue; cautious, open-minded Tak; and my favourite… patient, selfless Owl.

The book switches between Pepper’s past, and Sidra’s present. Pepper’s story made me cry. Many times. Her story spans both time lines, and knowing what’s to come in the past, and what’s driving her in the present… I won’t lie, i had to skip ahead to make sure things worked out for her.

It’s the themes explored and represented in this book, as with the first, that really excite me and set this book apart. Sex-shifting, cloning and genetic modification, multi-parenting, bartering, the ethics of artificial intelligence… These things are such a part of the world and the story, and approached in such respectful, thought-provoking ways. I can’t explain how much i love this.

This book is just as good as the first, and has cemented Chambers as an auto-buy author for me. With a third book in this series on the way, i am rather freaking excited for more!

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Dockwood

Title: Dockwood

Author: Jon McNaught

Summary: It’s a cloudy Tuesday in October and the residents of the town are going about their business as usual. In Elmsview Nursing Home, a kitchen porter dutifully prepares lunch for residents. Elsewhere, a council worker sweeps the fallen leaves from the pavements. Along Nettlefield Road, a paperboy is delivering his daily round. And in the trees, swallows gather noisily in preparation for their annual migration.

In this bittersweet and contemplative work, Jon McNaught weaves together the everyday lives of three locals against an evocative backdrop of autumnal transitions.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: As with almost all my graphic novel purchases, this was bought on a whim from my local comic shop. I love impulse buying graphic novels–they are rarely as disappointing as random book buys!

This book is so, so lovely. It has two stories in it, but i think the word ‘story’ doesn’t do them justice. They don’t really have plots, or development, or conclusion. Instead of stories, they’re more like a series of moments. Each is so quiet and unassuming. Both are set in the fictional British town of Dockwood. The first, Elmview, follows an employee at a care home as he helps the chef in the kitchen and as he delivers cups of tea to the residents. The second, Sunset Ridge, follows a kid walking home from school with a friend and doing his paper round.

The art is wonderful. With a limited colour palette of blue, red, pink, black, and white, the panels are simple, but hold so much depth, change, and mood. And mood is really what this book is all about. There is some dialogue in the stories, but most panels have no text. Instead they show people walking, chopping, folding, reading. Instead they show animals flying, climbing, eating, perching. These panels, strung together, show small moments that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. They have a peaceful feeling about them. Serene and simple, they made me take the time to slow down and really appreciate them–really experience them. I found this book just really, really calming.

My favourite moment would be in Sunset Ridge when the kid stops for a few minutes to eat a chocolate bar and read one of the papers he is delivering. There is a story about a new galaxy being discovered and he stops to look up at the night sky, still munching on his snack. It’s a moment to contemplate how big the universe is, and how small you are in comparison to it all… Then a bus drives past, blocking the view with a giant advert for an action film. Suddenly we’re back down to earth and moving on–to the next moment.

This graphic novel is just lovely. That’s the word. It wrapped my mind up the same way a blanket would wrap my body. Safe, and warm, and comfortable.

It is also not without humour…

Black Widow

Title: Black Widow

Author: Christopher Brookmyre

Summary: Diana Jager is clever, strong and successful, a skilled surgeon and fierce campaigner via her blog about sexism. Yet it takes only hours for her life to crumble when her personal details are released on the internet as revenge for her writing.

Then she meets Peter. He’s kind, generous, and knows nothing about her past: the second chance she’s been waiting for. Within six months, they are married. Within six more, Peter is dead in a road accident, a nightmare end to their fairytale romance.

But Peter’s sister Lucy doesn’t believe in fairytales, and tasks maverick reporter Jack Parlabane with discovering the dark truth behind the woman the media is calling Black Widow…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: I’ve been having a bit of a reading slump lately, so i decided to dive into a Brookmyre, as they are always a fun, interesting, and relatively light read. I wasn’t wrong; this was just the type of book i needed to get me enjoying the act of reading again. Even in the 7 hours since i’ve finished reading it, i’ve caught myself with a half hour to spare and thought, “Oh, good, i can read a bit of my book,” before remembering there isn’t any left to read!

This is the seventh book in the Jack Parlabane series, and as with the last book, Dead Girl Walking, Brookmyre remains departed from the humour-filled escapades of Parlabane of yore. Instead of wise-cracking and elaborate set ups, he’s glum and lack-lustre. I miss the old Parlabane–i miss Christopher Brookmyre. But there is more to this book than simply one character!

The story itself is a not-unfamiliar one. A career-driven woman meets and swiftly marries a man somewhat beneath her. Her husband’s car is then found off the edge of a cliff, they have no body but work with the assumption that he is dead. The details involve cyber-spying, troubled childhoods, and secrets inside secrets inside password-protected secrets.

Most of the book is heavily focused on our main character–and main suspect–Diana. The second half is more of an even split between her and Parlabane. Diana, as the ‘black widow’ of the title and the main suspect from the get go, i liked and was rooting for almost immediately. This is a crime thriller and i expect twists and turns; if i’m being told to assume a character is guilty too early, i’m going to go right ahead and assume they’re innocent. So while she was portrayed as callous, cold, and calculated, i was busy admiring her strength and self-preservation.

The start reminded me strongly of Gone Girl. The missing and presumed dead partner, the first-person narrative of a harsh and intelligent woman. It might even be another reason i warmed to Diana so quickly–i’m one of the few people who actually enjoyed Amy’s character. Thankfully, as the plot developed the similarities faded and i was invested in this book in its own right, rather than as a comparison.

I enjoyed the book well enough; Brookmyre’s writing is stellar in all the ways it always has been. It’s smart, it’s intriguing. His characters are always so well-rounded and he seems to bring them to life with such an ease that i’m insanely jealous of. There are side plots, mini plots, pre-plots. There is never a dull moment, to say the least. However.

However, there weren’t any shocking revelations. Well, i mean, there were, but they weren’t shocking to me–i’d figured them all out. When i read a book i know has twists and turns i’m looking for them. I’m an active reader–i can’t not be looking for them. The book is saying, “Oh, hey, look at A,” so i’m looking closer and B and C. Small throwaway comments regarding the timeline, someone’s perfume, or someone’s pregnancy and i can see what road the reader is being led down, so i extrapolate and take the road less travelled, instead. The only thing i didn’t have figured out were the fine details and the overall motive, because they didn’t matter so much until the very end.

For anyone who doesn’t consciously evaluate the mystery in crime thrillers, this book will not disappoint. For those of us that do, well… i think the only way we’ll be surprised is if a book left no clues and made very little sense. I enjoy the process of figuring things out as i read, and as much as i’d like to be surprised by a twist, i do feel a smug dose of satisfaction when i see it all coming.

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Mystery Circus

Title: Mystery Circus (Week One)

Author: Verity Hall

Summary: “I guess nobody comes to take the posters down….”

After finding an old circus poster that is months out of date, as well as advertising a performer who is now dead, Malorey Hassan’s curiosity is sparked. When the same circus returns to the town Mal cannot miss the opportunity to find out more about the dead girl.

Dragging her friend Eddie along for the ride, Mal tries to infiltrate the circus and get some answers to her many questions, as well as get to know the performers. However she doesn’t realise that her questioning is starting to annoy people, and that she might not like the answers she seeks.

As Mal keeps digging and begins to see a chance to escape her humdrum life, things get stranger and stranger at Parvati’s Circus.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: First of all: cover love. Art, minimalist, negative space, bold use of colour. The cover is the reason i picked this book up. The circus storyline and the POC main character are the reasons i bought it.

So, the art is great. It’s bold and fun and colourful. It’s got lots of depth and detail without being too much or too busy. It has so much life, and brings so much life to the characters, in their postures and gestures and faces. There are also these large, single panel, location pieces to mark each new day/chapter, and those are wonderful (more negative space–insert heart eyes emoji here).

The characters were… characters. Rocco, the strong man, and Eddie, the best friend, were delightful. Everyone else was pretty nasty, really. Mal, our main character, was interesting in may ways and had a lot of personal stuff going on, but they were also very single-minded and seemed to not care a jot for other people’s feelings. Mostly people were just selfish and intent on hiding things.

I can cope with horrible characters, and i was getting quite into them by the end of this book. However, the start dragged quite a bit. The first two or three days, nothing much happened–the same scenario is repeated, with our inquisitive main character doing the same things and expecting different results. It was only about halfway through that things started moving. Another issue is that this book is only the first part of a longer series. By the end of the book, no questions are answered. We’ve met our cast of characters, we know people are hiding things, and we want to know what’s going on… then nothing. It’s the end. Don’t get me wrong, it’s left me wanting the next instalment, but as a single book it offered no conclusion. In isolation, this book has no story, really. Which is a shame.

Overall, though, i loved this artwork, i’m intrigued by the story, and i love the diverse characters and LBGT+ themes it includes. When is week two happening, please?

TTT: Feminist Recommendations

With an open prompt this week of “recommendations for _________” I had a few ideas, but in the end I’ve decided to recommend a bunch of books for feminists, because I think a lot, if not all, of these books should be required reading for everyone—man, woman, child, and everyone in between.

I haven’t read all of these (yet!), but they all have important messages, whether straight up in essay form, or through a fictional narrative. I lovelovelove all the books here I have read, and can’t wait to get started on the ones I haven’t.

If you have any feminist book recommendations, leave them for me in the comments—i want MORE!

We Should All Be Feminists: A personal and powerful essay from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the bestselling author of ‘Americanah’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, based on her 2013 TEDx Talk of the same name.

Sisters of the Revolution: This book gathers a highly curated selection of feminist speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror and more) chosen by one of the most respected editorial teams in speculative literature today.

A Room of One’s Own: Why is it, Woolf asks, that men have always had power, influence, wealth, and fame, while women have had nothing but children? There will be female Shakespeares in the future, Woolf argues, only if women are provided with two basics of freedom: a fixed income of 500 per year and a room of one’s own in which to write.

The Female Man: When these four women meet, the results are startling, outrageous, and subversive.

Bad Feminist: A collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched young cultural observers of her generation.

The Handmaid’s Tale: In Gilead, where women are prohibited from holding jobs, reading, and forming friendships, Offred’s persistent memories of life in the ‘time before’ and her will to survive are acts of rebellion.

The Power: Suddenly – tomorrow or the day after – teenage girls find that with a flick of their fingers, they can inflict agonizing pain and even death.

Herland: A story about three male explorers who stumble upon an all-female society isolated somewhere in South America. Noting the advanced state of the civilization they’ve encountered, the visitors set out to find some males, assuming that since the country is so civilized, “there must be men.”

The Trouble with Women: Can women be geniuses? Or are their arms too short? Why did we only learn about two three women at school? What were all the others doing?

Revolutionary Women: A Book of Stencils: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology: Both a radical feminist history and a street art resource, this handbook combines short biographies with striking and usable stencil images of 30 female activists, anarchists, feminists, freedom fighters, and visionaries.

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Graffiti (and Other Poems)

Title: Graffiti (and Other Poems)

Author: Savannah Brown, Ed Stockham (illustrator)

Summary: These poems are about growing up, budding and grappling and shedding, about how wonderful it feels and about how deeply it aches.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This book’s been on my radar for a while, but i’ll admit, in the end it was this second edition cover that had me buying it (black > white). I also seem to be a bit hit-and-miss with poetry. Sometimes i love it, sometimes it just doesn’t click with me; i’m always apprehensive going in.

It was the third verse in this collection that got these poems clicking for me. I so immediately felt like an adolescent again, old and familiar emotions swept over me so effortlessly. And the best part was that they weren’t unwelcome or uncomfortable. Often, remembering emotions from my teenage years can stir embarrassment and shame, but that’s not what i felt and recalled when i read this book.

The poems are written from a place of introspection, but with enough perception to make them astute and mature. Poems like a poem just for me, real estate, and the only things i know to be true reveal an author who knows herself, but knows she’s not infallible, and knows she’s going to grow and change. While i relate to many of the feelings and sentiments in these poems, it’s with hindsight–i would never have been this self-aware as a teenager.

To me these are the poems of someone processing their own experiences and emotions in a safe and intelligent way, and that makes them massively relatable and fascinating. If these were written during and about Brown’s teenage years, i–as a woman a few years into her 30s–would be very interested in reading any poems she writes in her 20s.

And the art! The accompanying pieces amongst the words. They’re perfect little visual snippets of the poems. There is one in particular of a capsizing ship that I would consider having tattooed on my body. Such simple artwork speaks volumes, in just the same way three verse poems contain as much depth as a novel.

TTT: Best Beginnings

Top Ten Tuesday is back to its regularly scheduled prompting next week, but there is one more topic from the vaults from me before then: The best book beginnings.

I love it when a book has a strong start. When it’s bold and daring and interesting and I immediately want to never put it down. It’s a fairly hard to achieve thing, and when I find it, I devour the book. So these are 10 books that had me hooked by the end of chapter one, even on the first page… and in one case, by the title and cover alone.

IT – I’ve reread the first chapter so, so many times, that even just the first sentence gives me chills of anticipation. It’s probably my favourite first chapter of a book, ever, if only because nostalgia.

Nimona – By the bottom of page two, I was smitten and I knew I was going to fall hard for this book and it’s light, joyful humour. I did.

The Passage – When a book hits you hard enough to have you sobbing your heart out by the end of the first chapter, and you have 900 pages left to go… it leaves an impression.

Ablutions: Notes for a Novel – With a very unique second-person POV narrative, and an actual LOL on the second page, this book had one hell of a hook.

Haunted – Sure fire way to gab my attention: gross me the hell out in the first chapter. It’s actually really hard to do, which is why I enjoy it when it happens. Kudos, Palahniuk.

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil – I was in love with this before before I’d even left the shop, before I’d parted money with it, before I’d lifted it from the shelf. It’s no surprise to me that I genuinely call this book ‘The Gigantic Beard That Was Awesome’ and don’t even realise that’s not what it’s called.

The Haunting of Hill House – Eerie, creepy, and very much haunting, this book has one of those first chapters that drags you in and immerses you into its world almost effortlessly.

I Am Legend – The tension builds so quickly in this book’s first chapter it’s almost tangible. I felt frozen and stiff with anxiety, and I couldn’t have put the book down if I tried. World building at its best.

Quite Ugly One Morning – I recommend this book a lot, but it’s always with the proviso that if you haven’t laughed by the end of the first chapter, just don’t bother carrying on. This book seriously needs to win some kind of Best First Chapter Ever award. It’s gross, it’s funny, it’s ridiculous—it’s perfect.

Tiny Deaths – So, technically, as a collection, it was the first story, rather than chapter here that had me hooked. But I read that first story because I found the book laying around… it’s the fact I had to go buy my own copy in order to read the rest that cements its place on this list!

What books had you hooked by the end of chapter one? Any by the first page?

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Face-Off Friday: Fire

This week, the covers that will be judged and compared all feature fire. It didn’t take me long to decide on a book; Firestarter by Stephen King was an easy and apt choice. There were so many covers to choose from! I limited myself to 8, with only one English language edition. They all, obviously, feature fire. Let’s take a look at them…


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first is (apparently) the kindle cover, and I’ll admit i picked this because it immediately caught my eye and was my favourite of the English language covers. Bold colour, negative space, art. I love this one, straight off the bat.

The second is a German cover, and while i like the painful/angry hand gesture and the overlying flames, it’s in a cringy way. Overall, i have to say i’m not a fan.

Number three is a Hungarian cover, which i actually really like. For me it wasn’t obvious what i was seeing at first. It feels arty, and i like the colours. The fact that it’s then Charlie, the main character, and a unique looking fire make it stand out nicely for me.

Four is a Portuguese cover that i’m trying not to laugh at. Is this a book about fire ghosts haunting burning buildings? Because that’s what i would guess, looking at this cover!

The fifth is a Danish cover, and while i don’t hate it, it feels like a safe cover; a style that doesn’t stand out or offend. It’s average.

Number six is another good one. It’s a Spanish cover and it has negative space, an awesome font, a fire explosion that stands out brilliantly against the black. Another contender here.

Seven is a Czech cover, and this is another i love for the cheesiness. The literal hothead, the pink title that looks like it was made using Word. I love it, but i also hate it.

And the eighth is a Swedish cover, and a possibly surprising potential. I like the font and the wonk it’s on. I like the simple teddy bear on fire, and all that innocence/danger implies. Yeah, quite like this one.

Results? Although i really like the third, sixth, and eighth, that first one hits all my most favourite cover penchants so spot on. It’s another one i’d frame!

What do you think of this selection of covers? Which is your fave? I won’t laugh (to your face) if it’s one of the cheesy-cringy ones 😉