Seasons

Title: Seasons

Author: Mike Medaglia

Summary: Seasons is a collection of 4 short stories based on the different seasons in a year and how they correspond to the different seasons of a life.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book has one of the most gorgeous covers i have ever laid eyes on. Obviously, that’s the reason i picked it up. So simple, yet so affective. I love the minimalism, the bold colours, the leaves. It’s perfect and I want to frame it.

There are four short and equally as simple stories inside. Each named after the season it is set in, and each capturing a different time in life; childhood, adolescence, middle age, and old age. None is really a happy story–all showcase a sadness to humanity in their own way. Patterns children are drawn to repeat, pressures of society telling us what we should be, the shallow insecurities of adulthood, and the fear of not having learnt enough as our time runs out.

Each story–each season–is prefaced with a quote and large splashing of art and colour, illustrating the changing of the seasons and allowing space to pause and absorb between each story. It is a lovely touch.

Four stories, catching just a brief, but all too telling glimpse into people’s lives. They are beautifully told. The art is bold and clear, often at odds with the message being delivered. The colour choices match the season the stories are in–pastel green, pink, and blue for spring, bright primaries for summer, deep orange and browns for autumn, and cool blues for winter. They set a mood that makes the reading easy and the tone light, despite the sombre narratives.

A wonderful little book, worth picking up and pondering over for a spell. Simple, and meaningful. I loved every page.

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Popshot Magazine: The Hope Issue

Title: Popshot Magazine: The Hope Issue

Author: Various

Summary: Popshot is an illustrated literary magazine that publishes short stories, flash fiction, and poetry from the literary new blood.

Our sixteenth issue, featuring a timeless collection of poems and short stories that explore hope in all its weird and wonderful ways. Nestled within its pages, we’ll find a daughter extracting memories from her mother’s mind, a couple feasting on slices of rainbow, refugees spreading roots in friendlier lands, a woman who begins to disappear from sight and someone with a small, bright bird inhabiting their chest

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: After reading and reviewing The Adventure Issue, I have a few Popshot magazines on my bookshelf to read. I’m glad I finally managed to pick one up to read!

The illustrations are, as previously, outstanding. They set the tone for the individual stories and poems, as well as the magazine itself. They are mellow, lulling the reading into the words at a sedate pace, making you really consider and appreciate every sentence. The detail, the colours, the space… although they are different artists, they fit and compliment each other, pulling the entire magazine together.

My favourite story was The Disappearance, a quiet tale about people fading away. It surprised me how quickly and completely i became immersed in the story, invested in the one character we meet, and how quickly the tale flew by. I Hope This Email Finds You Well and Bird Girl are other stand outs, for the writing, the way the stories are told, and the concepts they are exploring. I found them fascinating. The other few stories were fine, but none quite grabbed me enough to leave a lasting impression.

There were a few notable poems this issue, as well. I’m not a huge poem lover and I freely admit a lot manages to go over my head, but here i found several to love. Small Animals, the last in the magazine, is a clear winner (always saving the best till last). It talks of bad days and good, and sharing your sadness and embracing the happiness… except it’s so much more than that and so, so beautifully written. The Cavern, about the good things we hold within us, afraid to let them out for fear of failure. Ash, about someone helping your burned heart grow something new. Rainbow, Refugee, This World No Deeper Than The Eye… the poems stood out in this issue, far and away.

As much as I loved a lot of the stories and poems, overall this issue didn’t pull me in as much or as strongly as the previous issue. Maybe because i’m too much of a cynical person, and adventure speaks to me more than hope. Either way, i still very much enjoyed it, and look forward to grabbing the next issue soon.

Ash by Kieran Cottrell

I had a heart like an upturned ashtray.

I spoke smoke. People held their breath.
When I found you, ash was all
I had to pile at your feet.

I did not know what you would do
with my dire, dirtying heart
crumbled there, burning.

Would you brush it off, blow it out,
heap it, beating, in your palm
offend the wind with it?

No, you found soil, seeded it.
You poured my heart in, stirred
what I had wasted. And we waited.

Now here’s a sapling. Soon, an ash tree.

Illustration by Leib Chigrin

The Wendy Project

Title: The Wendy Project

Author: Melissa Jane Osborne (Writer), Veronica Fish (Illustrator)

Summary: What forces us to finally grow up?

16-year-old Wendy Davis crashes her car into a lake on a late summer night in New England with her two younger brothers, John and Michael, in the backseat. With Michael missing, Wendy struggles to negotiate fantasy and reality as students and adults around her resemble characters from Neverland. Given a sketchbook by her therapist, Wendy starts to draw “The Wendy Project.”

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I was drawn to this book both because of my own name in the title, and because of that gorgeous cover. The beauty continued on the inside, both in terms of the art and the story.

Following a car accident and a missing, presumed dead bother, Wendy begins to draw and write. She chronicles her life, emotions, and ways of coping. People in her life become characters–good, bad, mischievous–her trauma and loss becomes a story, a fantasy, a mystery to be solved. She tries to make things easier by fitting feelings and events into a narrative she can control, but she can’t control her characters.

The art is wonderful, whirling and fading between a grim reality and a bright make-believe. The use of colour is magnificent–it emanates from her journal and seeps into the life around her, into the people and places and objects. The colour is both what her life is missing and her escape from life. It’s just… really amazingly done, okay?

Wendy deals with so much, so beautifully in this book. Loss, love, depression, guilt, teenage romance, teenage angst, loneliness… and it’s all dealt with and portrayed in heartbreaking simplicity with a thread of hope throughout. I felt the depth of Wendy’s emotions, but not so much that i became upset myself. And i’m happy with that.

I devoured this book. It flowed so easily, i couldn’t help but keep reading. The story, the art, the colour… I couldn’t look away.

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The Power

Title: The Power

Author: Naomi Alderman

Summary: All over the world women are discovering they have the power. With a flick of their fingers they can inflict terrible pain – even death.

Suddenly, every man on the planet finds they’ve lost control. The day of the girls has arrived – but where will it end?

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: I’ll admit, my expectations were easily and unnaturally high for this one. I loved the premise, and i’d heard so many–so many, maybe that should have given me pause–good things about this book. In hindsight, it was never going to live up to that.

It started strong. I loved all the characters, their individual stories and the way they were spread across the world was interesting, and i was intrigued as to how their paths would cross. Roxy was my favourite, and it was her introduction that revved me up and excited me for what was to come. She had the drive and the circumstances to be powerful with or without “The Power” and that’s what i loved about her. Margot i liked for her cunning and manipulation. Like Roxy, she would have got just as far without “The Power”, but it changed the game she was playing and i loved seeing the moves she made. Allie i liked a lot at the start, but when she became Mother Eve she became less interesting to me. Tunde i found likable throughout. His ambition and motivation seemed limitless, even when his life started to get difficult.

I loved that start of the book. Seeing girls developing “The Power”, passing it to the older generations, and how society reacted and adapted to that. Small almost unnoticeable things at first, before the larger tables began to turn. It was the smaller details and side stories that really worked for me. The chat show host who went from amenable female sidekick to the lead with a compliant male sidekick of her own. Roxy’s brother who is sexually assaulted and forever damaged by the events. The middled-aged women kept captive by men who fight for their freedom after a young girl awakes “The Power” in them. And most especially the letters between the author and pre-reader which frame the book–the subtle ways it illustrates the way men and women treat and are treated differently. I loved those bits.

The overall story didn’t do much for me. It felt like it was trying to be widespread and world-effecting, but seemed very focused in only a small number of places. I felt it jumped quickly from demonstrating the gradual changes in the US to all out war in eastern Europe, and when the focus did shift, we left almost all of the US development behind. When Margot’s voice was lost from the narrative, i found myself loosing my interest as well. As much as i appreciate why Mother Eve and the religious aspects of the story were included and what role they play, that side of the narrative also failed to thrill me.

By the end of the book the story and the writing felt a little haphazard and messy. After such a build up, the end–though fitting and satisfying–came rather swiftly. Narration began switching randomly between characters during the same chapters, despite being clearly delineated throughout the rest of the book. As much as I had some issues with the story overall, it was well organised and plotted until the last 50 pages, where things began to rush along in a tangled mess towards the finish line.

Although i loved the general idea, the characters, and the details and side stories, I found the book as a whole lacked focus and a clear narrative. I think the world created here is brilliant–and i would love a book of short stories set between the emergence of “The Power” and, well, the end of the book. The book itself, though, seems to be telling such a big story, over so many years, that the nuances needed within that story aren’t there.

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?

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.