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After finding an old circus poster that is months out of date, as well as advertising a performer who is now dead, Malorey Hassan’s curiosity is sparked.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 😉

Soppy

Title: Soppy

Author: Philippa Rise

Summary: True love isn’t always about the big romantic gestures.

Sometimes it’s about sympathizing with someone whose tea has gone cold, watching TV and sharing a quilt, or allowing your partner to order take-away pizza again. When two people move in together, it soon becomes apparent that the little things mean an awful lot. The throwaway moments in life become meaningful when you spend them in the company of someone you love.

Soppy is Philippa Rice’s collection of pitch-perfect comics based on real-life moments with her boyfriend. From grocery shopping to silly arguments and snuggling in front of the television, Soppy captures the universal experience of sharing a life together.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book is just a bloody delight. I’d seen a few of the comics about online and they were just so sweet and genuine and relatable. When i saw the book, i knew i was going to buy it. I basically had a smile on my face the entire time i was reading it.

It’s the story of falling in love, and sharing your life with someone. The little moments that happen but can often get lost in the chaos of everyday life are captured here so perfectly. Of course, these comics resonate for me as i’ve been in a loving relationship with my partner for over 11 years. I’d imagine if you’re single or only newly dating they might not have the same significance. But i think of a lot of people, even if this kind of relationship and these kind of moments aren’t what they have, are close to what they want.

The art is absolutely lovely, too. For using only black, white and red, Rice creates so much depth and detail and texture in her drawings. It was often the larger single-panel pieces without text that I loved. Playing Carcassonne by candlelight, laying together on a blanket, making tea together in the kitchen. These are the moments where there might not really be a story or a joke, but are still shared moments where there is just ease between a happy couple. I loved them a lot.

Ultimately i loved this book so much because it made me happy, i smiled and thought of my partner, i remembered how lucky we are to have moments very much like the ones in these comics. It’s a wonderful book.

And my favourite, without a shadow of a doubt, it this amazing gem…

The Practical Implications of Immortality

Title: The Practical Implications of Immortality

Author: Matthew Dooley

Summary: Fresh from winning the 2016 Jonathan Cape/Comica/Observer prize, Matthew Dooley returns with his second collection of comics. Featuring tales of astronauts, milkmen, and more existential angst than you can shake a stick at, The Practical Implications of Immortality is a characteristically witty and often surreal follow-up to Matthew’s first collection Meanderings.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I got this from my local comic shop on a whim (as most of my purchases there are–i love it). I just liked the art style on the cover and interesting title. It’s also a book of short comics, which for a 28 page book, made them pretty damn short!

The art is wonderful. It’s fairly simple, which make its small details, like facial expressions and texture, really easy on the eye. It’s also colourful, with a restricted pastel palette used for most of the stories. Basically any single panel from this book could be blown up and framed and i would gladly hang it on my wall (even the naked ones).

The stories themselves made me laugh out loud often and with great joy. A lot of them are quite… pessimistic, which makes the humour quite black. And that’s likely why it made me laugh so much. (It’s funny because (to my cynical self) it’s true?) A few of the best would be a pair of birds talking shit about Napoleon, a world full of Matthew Dooleys, and various wonderful ways to avoid an existential crisis.

My very favourite, though… the one that wrenched a proper good cackle from me, was this untitled masterpiece:

 

In summary: I loved it. I want to get my hands on Dooley’s first collection of comics, too, but unfortunately his website is sold out. Le sigh. If you get the chance, pick this up: £4.00 definitely well spent.

TTT: Quotes 2016/17

I’ve done a couple of quote-themed TTTs, but the last one was in 2015. I figured I should do an updated 2016/17 one. Because I do love a good quote. So here are my 10 favourite quotes from books i’ve read in the last two years.

Some tell it that ‘sorry’ is the hardest word, but for me it has always been ‘help’.

Mark Lawrence – Emperor of Thorns

Nothing in the media provides pleasure as reliably as books do—if you like reading.
And a good many people do. Not a majority, but a steady minority.
And readers recognize their pleasure as different from that of simply being entertained. Viewing is often totally passive, reading is always an act. Once you’ve pressed the On button, TV goes on and on and on… you don’t have to do anything but sit and stare. But you have to give a book your attention. You bring it alive. Unlike the other media, a book is silent. It won’t lull you with surging music or deafen you with screeching laugh tracks or fire gunshots in your living room. You can hear it only in your head. A book won’t move your eyes for you like TV or a movie does. It won’t move your mind unless you give it your mind, or your heart unless you put your heart in it. It won’t do the work for you. To read a good novel well is to follow it, to act it, to feel it, to become it—everything short of writing it, in fact. Reading is a collaboration, an act of participation. No wonder not everybody is up to it.

Ursula Le Guin – Staying Awake While We Read

In general I can tell those who haven’t suffered trauma from those who have just by looking at them. It’s marked on their foreheads and it shows in their eyes. The ones who saw something unbearable and continued living anyway.

Monica Byrne – The Girl in the Road

If you prick me, do I not bleed? If you wrong me, shall I not fuck your shit right up?

Christopher Brookmyre – Dead Girl Walking

They were the eyes of a person who knew he was as good as dead. When you have that look, you’re not young or old, or black or white, or even a man or a woman. You’re gone from all those things.

Justin Cronin – The Passage

He was a positive force. But only because he chose to be one.

Nnedi Okorafor – Lagoon

“And if, one day,“ she said, really crying now, “you look back and you feel bad for being so angry, if you feel bad for being so angry at me that you couldn’t even speak to me, then you have to know, Conor, you have to know that it was okay. It was okay. That I knew. I know, okay? I know everything you need to tell me without you having to say it out loud. All right?”

Patrick Ness – A Monster Calls

Bill felt panic trying to rise and pushed it back. It went, but not easily. He could feel it back there, a live thing, struggling and twisting, trying to get out.

Stephen King – IT

“I can wait for the galaxy outside to get a little kinder.”

Becky Chambers, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

By revolution we become more ourselves, not less.

George Orwell – Why I Write

Have you read any good quotable passages or lines lately? Share them in the comments!

IT

Title: IT

Author: Stephen King

Summary: It was the children who see – and feel – what made the small town of Derry so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, IT lurks, taking on the shape of every nightmare, each one’s deepest dread. Sometimes IT reaches up, seizing, tearing, killing…

Time passes and the children grow up, move away and forget. Until they are called back, once more to confront IT as it sirs and coils in the sullen depths of their memories, reaching up again to make their past nightmares a terrible present reality.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: Straight off the bat, i’ll admit: This review is bias. As a 10 year old kid, i graduated from Point Horror books to Stephen King, and my first novel was IT. I don’t remember first picking it up and deciding to read it. I do remember re-reading sections dozens of times. I remember reading the first chapter aloud to friends during a sleepover. I remember this book being an important part of my childhood.

So this was maybe my fourth or fifth time reading the book cover to cover, but the first time in over 15 or 20 years. The memories flooded back to me. I remembered the overall gist of some parts, and others i remembered almost word for word. I took almost three months to read this book, and it’s because i was savouring it. Fair warning: there will likely be (at the very least, out-of-context) spoilers.

For the most part, the book takes place in two timelines: the summer of 1958 and the summer of 1985. It follows the same group of characters, interspersing their lives from when they are 11 with their lives 27 years later, when they’re 38. This group of characters is the Loser’s Club. Shall we start here then? I love all the losers in one way or another, but my favourite is Beverly. As an 11-year-old kid she’s super awesome–tough and brave and taking no shit. She’s a tomboy who plays rough and dirty with the boys and thinks nothing of it. She won’t let other people’s judgements on the fact that she’s a girl stop her from doing anything. As an adult, i liked her less. She somehow let life wear her down, and she wasn’t as hardy as her younger self. King used her as the much more emotive adult character, where as children it seemed they were all allowed to have a spectrum of emotions. Of the others, i especially loved Ben (emotionally intelligent and intuitively ingenuitive) and Mike (unknowingly wise and unshakably steadfast). But all of the characters are brilliant in their own way–they all have depth and flaws and talent.

The Loser’s nemeses are twofold: an ancient demonic evil entity that preys on children by taking the form of their worst nightmare… and the school bully and his minions. It’s a toss up as to which i find more abhorrent, to be honest. But i guess the ancient demonic evil entity just pinches it, because at least we get the bully’s back story. Henry is a tad twisted and a lot fucked up; full of anger and hate and inadequacy he projects it all at those weaker and more easily targeted, in typical bully fashion. This is heightened, however, by the influence and coaxing of IT. IT has many guises–as a werewolf, a leper, a shark, dead children, a giant bird–but it’s more common facade is Pennywise the dancing clowns (though i don’t recall him doing much dancing). Every 24-27 years, IT shapeshifts it’s way through the odd town of Derry, killing children, before hibernating the time away underground until the cycle begins again.

On the surface it’s a book about monsters, childhood fears, and children’s ability to believe (in the monsters, and in the things that will kill the monsters). But the books is much more than that. It’s about friendship, loyalty, and growing up. It’s about the way society often disregards and controls children. It’s about the ways in which people change as they mature… and they ways in which they stay the same. It’s about how people’s fears and desires influence them on conscious and unconscious levels. It’s about a lot of stuff, okay?

I liked the 1958 timeline more than 1985. I found the characters as kids much more interesting and generally more developed and fleshed out from a writing perspective. The adults seemed a little more two dimensional in comparison, and that wasn’t helped by the fact that for most of the book they couldn’t remember much of their childhood. I think that memory loss left them as less themselves (and that’s me being generous, making it part of the plot, rather than a flaw in the writing). It even goes as far as what they each bring to the group; as kids they all had specific traits that aided their fight against IT, but come adulthood and these are all but gone. While Eddie still showed them the way to IT’s lair as adults, they didn’t need him to get them out. Bev was a natural with a slingshot, but as an adult she didn’t even touch one. It seemed that on the whole, as adults, there wasn’t as much to them as when they were kids.

In both timelines, it was the build up, the planning, and the brief encounters with IT that were the most enjoyable. The climax of the book–the children and adults fighting IT on its home ground, juxtapositioned–was less thrilling for me. For all that build up (over 1000 pages of it), not a lot actually happens. No real fighting or much action–all mind games. Which i don’t mind so much, in fact i rather enjoyed those scenes and getting to hear IT’s own point of view first hand… but the fact that a group of people had ventured there together, to then stand and watch one or two of them hypnotically communicate with IT telepathically was a bit of an anticlimax. It begged the question: Why were they all there?

What did get me was the forgetting. I knew it was coming, but it still hit me quite hard. This group of people forged incredible childhood friendships before gradually moving away and forgetting each other. They then get it all back–they remember each other, they remember all they did that summer, and they find they’re still bonded and care for each other deeply. But then it’s all taken away from them again–and this time they know; they can see it happening. That hit me right in the feels, and was the thing i found scariest of all. The connection these people had to each other, and the memories they made together… all taken from them. It’s altering who they are at such a deep level–they’ll never again know who they really are. That bloody hurts.

I believe we were both thinking the same thing: it was over, yes, and in six weeks or six months, we will have forgotten all about each other. It’s over, and all it’s cost us is our friendship…

Ultimately, it is the chapters detailing the summer of 1958 that i enjoyed the most. Meeting these seven children and them meeting each other. Following them juggle normal summer holiday activities, clashes with an ever more psychotic bully, and discovering and fighting an ancient demonic evil entity. Seeing them learn and experience and bond. Those are the chapters i remember most vividly from when i read this book as a child, because those are the chapters i re-read the most. It was nice to savour a full re-read of the entire book again, but it’s still that summer of 1958 that i’ll carry with me now i’ve finished.

I will also be re-watching the 1990 miniseries, which i was (unsurprisingly) also obsessed with as a kid. It’s likely i’ll write another non-review post about this book, and the film, and what they mean to me. I could have expanded on it here, but i wanted to keep this about the book (and otherwise this post would be far too long!). So watch this space, i guess!

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Friday Face-Off: Knife

This week’s cover comparison theme is knives, and i decided to go for some clear knife-themed covers by choosing The Knife of Never Letting Go. I haven’t actually read this book yet, and the cover i own does not feature a knife. But those facts aren’t going to stop me.

Here are the covers, which all link back to their respective goodreads pages.

       

The first two are both English language editions, and i like them well enough–simple artwork, negative space, interesting font. They’re the simple easy choice; there’s nothing i dislike about them, but they don’t grab my attention, either.

The third one is a Turkish cover. I like the shape, with the knife and the kid and the dog, and i like the negative space. But i don’t like the colours or the patterns. What could have been quite striking is, i think, lost in those too-bold colours and strange patterns.

The fourth one is an Italian cover… and it really suits that, i think. I like the black/white/touch-of-red colour scheme here, and the negative space that creates. It’s simply and bold without being too much or too little.

The fifth is a French cover, and i like a lot about this. The shadow as the blade of the knife, the blocking, shady font, and the negative space that fills most of the cover. I love it all, except the colour. Which is a shame, as it’s the main thing about this one!

The sixth one is a Romanian cover. This one took a little while for me to process, as it’s a bit busy. But i like the lines and broken patterns. The colours are an odd choice, but after the garish reds in other covers, it’s a welcome difference. The white font is also a notable difference, standing out nicely against the pink.

The seventh is a Swedish cover. I like the font, but otherwise almost nothing appeals to me here. It seems like a silhouette photo of the knife, with an vague out-of-focus background. The black and brown colour choices are a bit dreary here too.

The eigth cover is Chinese, and again, i don’t favour the abundance of red personally. I don’t hate the knife and the face within it, but it isn’t what i am usually drawn to.

Of the covers here, I have to say the pink and blue Romanian one is my surprise favourite. It’s striking and different and interesting. I quite love it. However, i’m going to throw a little spanner in the works, and add a bonus cover. It didn’t make the cut above because it doesn’t have a knife on the cover, but for my tastes it is a perfect cover. It’s a Russian cover, and the artwork, the font, the colours, the negative space are all spot on… this cover is amazing.

What do you think? Which cover do you prefer and why? It’s okay if you love all the red–someone has to.