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

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Popshot Magazine: The Adventure Issue

wp-1472915662992.jpegTitle: Popshot Magazine: The Adventure Issue

Author: Various

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

From the pavement to the pubs to the playhouses, our peculiar little planet is full of storytelling. Popshot aims to publish just a few of the more articularte and well-observed versions of these stories, illustrated by some of contemporary illustration’s finest.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: My partner bought this for me randomly, thinking it would be something i’d enjoy. It is. A collection of short stories and poems, beautifully illustrated and brought to life. This magazine is wonderful.

It started off strong with two sci-fi stories. Shadows, the tale of two spacemen who get lost in darkness and time and aren’t quite sure they make it out unscathed. Seventh, set following an unspecified apocalyptic event, follows a girl travelling, trying to find the one person left who means something to her.

All the stories here include–i’m hesitant to say twist, as it’s not always as shocking as that implies, but they have something. The end reveals enough to change to mood of the entire story, to give more meaning and depth to everything you’ve already read. And that is how the best short stories are told.

A young girl accused of being a spy, or an elderly lady in a hospital? A shipwrecked man gradually exploring a trail of islands, or going backwards and forwards between two? A young boy leading his little sister into a dangerous situation, or attempting to share a touching moment they’ll remember forever?

My favourite story was Bucket List, in which a group of strangers share a balloon ride that turns dangerous. One of them saves the day and completes his bucket list at the same time. It actually brought tears to my eyes, which is quite a feat for a short story!

I’m not a poem buff, and they were more hit and miss for me here. I enjoyed several, while others feel flat for me. Without a doubt, though, the last poem–and final piece in the magazine–was the best. Some Other Day just captured something wonderful about personal growth, about change, and about leaving parts of ourselves behind.

Standout throughout the magazine is the artwork. Each piece is gorgeous in itself, but they both give and receive so much in relation to the words they represent. They string the stories and poems together and make the magazine as a whole a piece of art.

This was issue number 15 of Popshot magazine, and i’m extremely tempted to subscribe for future issues. They seem so wonderfully light, interesting and beautiful; i want more.

Stop What You’re Doing and Read This!

Stop-What-Youre-ReadingTitle: Stop What You’re Doing and Read This!

Author: Various

Summary: In any 24 hours there might be sleeping, eating, kids, parents, friends, lovers, work, school, travel, deadlines, emails, phone calls, Facebook, Twitter, the news, the TV, Playstation, music, movies, sport, responsibilities, passions, desires, dreams.

Why should anyone stop what they’re doing and read a book?

People have always needed stories. We need literature because we need to make sense of our lives, test our depths, understand our joys, and discover what humans are capable of. Great books can provide companionship when we are lonely, or peacefulness in the midst of an overcrowded daily life. Reading provides a unique kind of pleasure and no one should live without it.

In the ten essays in this book some of our finest authors and passionate advocates from the worlds of science, publishing, technology, and social enterprise tell us about the experience of reading, why access to books should never be taken for granted, how reading transforms our brains, and how literature can save lives. In any 24 hours there are so many demands on your time and attention – make books one of them.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I love books about books, about reading and about the shared joy i experience with others who love books. This book, unfortunately, didn’t really live up to my expectations.

Very few of the essays in this book really stood out for me. Considering most of the authors are professional writers, i felt they did a pretty poor-to-average job of capturing the unique joy of reading we bookworms experience. Some of the essays focused on the author’s childhood and experience with books and reading as they grew up. A few included another focus, instead of the simply enjoyment reading brings, some chose to highlight how vital the ability is, how access to books is key. And though these were interesting and i agree with them, they didn’t evoke The Feeling or make a lasting impression on me.

The two essays i really enjoyed were the last two.

The Dreams of Readers by Nicholas Carr, though somewhat awkwardly written and including an abundance of direct quotes from others, captured the idea of books being both an escape to lose yourself in, and also an influence which transforms the reader. It talks about each reader bring their own experiences and interpretations to a book, and therefore each experiencing a different reading of the narrative. It’s a pretty simple and acceptable idea, but not one that’s often thought about or discussed.

To me that leads to questions about the subtleties and unique aspects of language; with such an array of connotations to words, meanings and inflection, can we ever know if we’re truly understanding each other?

Then Questions for a Reader by Dr Maryanne Wolf and Dr Mirit Barzillai takes the concept of reading transforming the the reader even further. They consider the history of the written word, how philosophers feared it spelt the end of individuals thinking for themselves, or thinking critically about the information presented to them. As we’ve proven since then, that’s not the case. But they also ponder the future of reading, with more reading happening online. When more words and information is only a click away and adverts and cat gifs are vying for the reader’s attention, how will this affect critical thinking?

In this case, I think the essay gives far too much credit and influence to the work and to the web. It assumes how the presentation of information changes is the only factor, rendering the consumer passive and easily influenced. I would argue the result depends more so on the reader. The reader has to want to critically engage with what they’re reading, and if they do, no amount of reddit or wikipedia links will deter them from that.

Overall, though, this book lacked the magic for me. It felt forced. It felt a little gimmicky. A “look, a book about books, you should read it!” attempt at selling a book, rather than a book that was genuinely about exploring people’s love of reading and trying to capture that feeling we get.

No Monsters Allowed

nomonstersTitle: No Monsters Allowed

Author: Various

Summary: Horror has a human face…

In a world over-run with vampires, werewolves and zombies, No Monsters Allowed goes back to the very roots of horror – humanity itself. The vile acts of our fellow men and women, the fears that hide in our own minds, the nightmares that inhabit our everyday lives . . .

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: This book caught my eye from the shelf in the library. I love horror and i love short stories, but what really got me interested was the human-horror element. So often the horror in fiction is represented as “other” be it in the form of monsters or disease or some such. But horror that draws on the cruelty and evil inherent in the human race is a horror you can’t tell yourself doesn’t exist when you’re trying to sleep at night. It’s scarier because it could be real–because it is real.

Overall the stories here were hit and miss. It’s not that any were outright bad, but that some didn’t hit as hard or leave an impression on me. And overwhelmingly the stories read as quite amateurish, which isn’t a criticism, per se, but the inexperienced writing didn’t help in the stories that were also weaker, and unfortunately did effect how seriously (or not seriously) i took the stories.

One story i really enjoyed was the second one, The Silence After Winter, which was about a woman and a young girl getting by following an apocalyptic event. Really, though, this story didn’t read as horror to me. I loved it because of its post-apocalyptic setting, and it certainly explored human nature and its drive to survive in various ways. But horror? Not so much.

Another great story was Puppyberries, about a new food stuff that takes a small town by storm for a short while. They don’t know what it is or really where it came from, but they can’t stop eating it. The thing is with this story, i was waiting for the human-horror twist for the entire narrative… and it didn’t come. I’m still baffled as to what the human-horror aspect was intended to be, as ending on the insinuation that the puppyberries had living things inside them that burrow out brings this story back around to a monster.

Bred in the Bone, Killer Con, and Precious Damaged Cargo are three excellent stories that hit human-horror spot on. For the first, i could feel the anticipation and the hidden horror throughout, and was perfectly satisfied when it was revealed. The second i loved as a commentary on society’s fixation with murderers and serial killers, with newspaper articles and books written about all the gory details–this story took that to a place and exposed the horror of not only the killers, but the public obsessed with them. The third one surprised me–i did not see that end coming, and i loved it!

My favourite story, and i think the one that struck me the most, and will likely stay with me a while, is Some Girls Wander By Mistake. I loved it because it explores sexuality and transgender topics, but within a horror setting. And the fact that it’s human-horror suits it perfectly. I also loved it because i knew where it was going, what the twist would be, but i don’t know how i knew. I just kept thinking, “This seems that,” and “It would be so good if this happened” and then it did. I just. Loved it.

Despite the stories being hit and miss, i did enjoy this book a lot. Mostly because the stories i enjoyed, i really enjoyed. I might actually have to re-read (and even photocopy?) Some Girls Wander By Mistake before i return it to the library. Damn, i really loved that story.

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Lovers’ Lies

loversliesTitle: Lovers’ Lies

Author: Various

Summary: This book is designed expressly for romantic cynics and cynical romantics. Be careful who catches you reading it – your intentions might be misinterpreted.

Join us as we wallow in the mny facets of relationships. Explore role-play gone wrong, goldfish that eat loneliness, and a very literal leap into the unknown.

Old love, cold love, true love, new love, dead love, we’re through love – making babies and making whoopee, disappointment and contentment, playing at home, playing away or just playing’ missed chances and new romances: everything from first conversation to last breath, strange journeys and stranger destinations.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: First of all, now i’ve just copy-typed that summary, can i just say how awful it is? Just… listing things. Very unimaginative and un-engaging. This is a book of short stories from the Liars’ League, all written around the theme of love. I first came across the Liars’ League when i read their book Weird Lies. I enjoyed it so much i wanted to try more, and bought this one.

Just like with Weird Lies, each story was short enough to enjoy in any snippet of time i could grasp, though a large chunk of them were also read over a longer train journey. I love short stories, and Liars’ League really does have some of the best. They’re self contained, have clear objectives and are easy to get into. This book contained 22 stories over 144 pages, and i enjoyed every single one. Some i loved more than others, of course.

‘Dara’ was about the love of a landlady for her suspicious tenant, as told through the eyes of the cleaner.

‘Under the Influence’ was about a drunken call from a husband while his wife does an online grocery shop. It’s not a happy call, and you feel for both characters… until the end, which is perfection.

‘Mrs Murdoch and Mr Smith’ is about two elderly people who meet for tea and cake, and though i would have taken the story in a more unexpected direction, i think it tells a story of companionship that very rarely gets acknowledged, and i loved that.

‘Monsieur Fromage’ is about a woman desperately seeking the perfect cheese to prove her love. She finds the cheese, but also something else.

‘Games I’ve Played and the People I’ve Played Them With’ is… very moving, actually. It’s about fun, games and finding joy in life with the ones you love, for as long as you can.

‘Speaking in Tongues’ is about love and language and connecting with someone on one level, but perhaps not on another.

‘The Painter and the Physicist’ is about a love between art and science, and how much they can share each other.

I find these short stories fascinating and inspirational. There is an art to the short story, and the Liars’ League have a knack for recognising the best. It makes me want to get writing my own. I will definitely be reading more Liars’ League books in the future.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: Water on the cover.

TTT: Freebies

TTT So, i have this thing. I tend to take things rather literally. If an answer or interpretation is needed, i will more often than not give a literal response. An example of this was a prompt in a 30 day writing meme that said to write about a time where someone puts their foot in their mouth. No, i did not write about some one literally putting their foot in their mouth–only because my partner preempted me, and forbid me to write that… he knows me so well.

To that end, when presented with this week’s top ten Tuesday of “Freebie” i had but one idea: Top ten books i got for free.

The Night Circus. A birthday (or christmas, i forget) gift several years ago from my parents.

Write. Borrowed from the library.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. Caught via BookCrossing and read, before releasing back into the wild.

Weird Lies. Won through a Goodreads giveaway.

Creature. A hand-me-down book that my mum no longer wanted.

Carter Beats the Devil. Recommended by and borrowed from my partner.

Endless Night. Informal book swapping shelf in Spain (so many years ago it hurts to remember).

The Godfather. A just-because gift from a friend.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. A book swap with What Hannah Read.

The Alchemist’s Revenge. Free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I love free books! How, where and why do you get free books? Am i missing any freebie opportunities?

Write

writeTitle: Write

Author: Various, The Guardian

Summary: Liberate your inner writer with insights and inspiration from some of the world’s finest contemporary authors.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I picked this book up randomly as i walked passed it in the library. I’m glad i did. Generally, i love books and quotes and reading about writing. I find it incredibly fascinating and inspiring. I don’t necessarily agree with everything said, or all tips and rules preached, but it is always interesting to hear about other people’s methods and thought processes.

This book is split into three main sections: Fundamentals, which includes a series of short essays focusing on different aspects of writing (characters, voice, dialogue, plot, editing, etc). Rules, which is a collection of practises different authors follow in their writing. And a ‘How I Wrote’ section, where authors wrote short pieces on their inspiration and method of writing a particular novel. At the end there were a few more essays on the more general topics of deadlines, stationary and copyright.

I was, predictably, hooked from the start. There is perhaps nothing i enjoy talking or reading about more than writing. Seeing other people put into words things that resonate so strongly with me. Seeing concepts and ideas shaped in such a way that it makes perfect sense, that i would never have been able to verbalise myself.

Sensitivity to language is [a] quality that really matters in writing; it is also, perhaps, the most resistant to any kind of formal teaching.

Good novels are completed by their readers. Bad novels by their authors: overwritten, over-detailed and over-plotted.

…to me fiction seems too important to professionalise. Leave it to the amateurs.

All the way through, i was itching to pick up a highlighter pen and a pencil to mark quotes and make notes i the margins. The fact that this was a library book made me refrain, but the urge was strong enough, that i’m looking to buying a second hand copy for myself to vandalise to my heart’s content.

Ultimately, this book has me thinking of ideas, plans, inspiration and generally just desperate to get writing. Definitely one to have, fully highlighted and scribbled in, on hand when i’m writing. To pick up and dive in at a moment’s notice.

Weird Lies

wlTitle: Weird Lies

Author: Various

Summary: There’s something about Liars’ League that brings out the wildness in the writers’ imaginations. Here we explore myth, fantasy, science fiction, and the indefinable what the – that makes up Weird. In true Liars’ League fashion there is as much humour as there is darkness and poignancy.

More than twenty tales, varying in style from stories not out of place in One Thousand and One Nights, to the completely bemusing.

Discover mirrors that predict the immediate future and museums where your personal future life is exhibited in the kind of ephemeral objects that might normally find their way into a dustbin.

Meet tadpoles, lazy assassins, and assiduous poisoners; observe deals with the devil, and workplace stress taken to its logical conclusion.

Heroes, villains, and animals – anything and anyone could provide the twist in the tale – cursed travellers, persistent dreamers, aliens, robots and even ice might be the object, or source, of love.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I love short stories, i love science fiction, fantasy and weird stuff. So when i saw this book in a goodreads giveaway, of course i entered it. I was more than pleased when i got the email telling me i’d won a copy. I was super happy when it came through my letter box about a week later, and started reading it as soon as i finished my previous book.

The first thing i loved about this book is that the stories are short enough that i could read one in its entirety on the bus to work. It was the perfect book to carry around with me to read at random opportunities. It has 24 stories over 160 pages, so lots to read in a small enough book that fitted easily into my bag.

With titles like, ‘Haiku Short, Parakeet Prawns, Konnichiwa Peter’ and ‘What Does H₂O Feel Like to the Tadpoles?’ i was more than eager to get reading and see what these stories held. I liked them all–there wasn’t one i didn’t enjoy.

‘Content Management’ reminded me of a short story i love by John Wyndham. It drew on some interesting stereotypes of men and women in relationships, and placed them in a futuristic setting where, well, where your content can be managed.

‘Fuzzby & Coo’ was a bit of a hoot. It was a reworking of Rapunzel with a much more awkward ending. It has also inspired me to re-write some classic fairy tales with a feminine twist!

I’m just flicking through the book now, and i can’t decide which stories to mention and praise, because there really was something great about each of them. Some of them were meaningful and poignant, some of them were comical and strange, and some of them were all of those things.

‘Candyfloss’ is exactly my kind of story. Light, but with hidden depth, not giving away all its details at once and the end not being a twist so much as an, “Ahh, i see what you did there.”

‘Free Cake’ might have been very funny, but it makes some excellent and valid observations on what it’s like to be over-worked at a monotonous job in a large building for a faceless corporation. Heads might roll, but occasionally there’s free cake.

I loved ‘Hollow Man’. What was going on was pretty obvious, but the ending was perfect, and the narration was sublime.

‘What Does H₂O Feel Like to the Tadpoles?’ was wonderful. Just picture a human sitting on the shore, having a conversation with tadpoles in the water about breathing. Or better yet, read this story about exactly that.

All of them. All of these stories made me smile, laugh, roll my eyes, ponder and help me escape on my dull journey to work. I will definitely be looking into more books from the Liars’ League.