Terrible Means

Terrible Means book coverTitle: Terrible Means

Author: B. Mure

Summary: In the city of Ismyre, something is stirring.

In B. Mure’s prequel to their Ismyre series, an aristocratic businessman reveals the latest must have: a pillar of crystals that when placed within a home allows for the creation of beautiful illusions and more powerful spells to be performed.

But when a strange imbalance emerges in the world’s ecosystem and magic, Henriett, a disgraced biological professor whose plants start inexplicably dying, and Emlyn, a young magician, find themselves working together to discover the source.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This is the second book set in the fantasy world of Ismyre. I read the first a few years ago now and loved it. I’ve had this one on my shelf for a while, quietly moving up in my to-read pile and it finally made it to the top.

While the first book in the series was mostly beautiful, quiet moments between characters and minimal plot, this book was mostly plot with a few significant moments between a whole new cast of characters. It was different, but also the same.

The art has the same dreamy quality, with the simple colour palette blending together and stark contrasts in turn, creating such a variety of moods. And the line work keeps the same casual almost haphazard style while also being incredibly detailed. I remain in awe of the art and any frame or page would look gorgeous framed and hung.

Now, the plot. This is a prequel to the first book, so goes some way to expanding on the slices of story there. We see the rich and influential residents of Ismyre throwing lavish parties and enjoying the novelty of newly discovered crystals that enhance people magical abilities. At the same time people in smaller towns and villages further afield are experiencing dying plants and rivers turning black. Could these things be connected? (Spoiler: they are!)

I read the first book over several days, fully wanting to appreciate and spend time in the scenes portrayed. This book, though, I devoured almost in one sitting, the plot fully driving the book on. I adored it.

There are two more books by Mure set in Ismyre, and I look forward to losing myself in them soon.

terrible means 01 terrible means 02

Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki's Delivery Service book coverTitle: Kiki’s Delivery Service

Author: Eiko Kadono

Summary: When Kiki lands in the town of Koriko she uses her trusty broomstick to start a flying delivery service. Although the local people are a little wary of having a witch in town at first, they soon come to rely on her to deliver their parcels. No job is too big or too small for Kiki and her wisecracking cat Jiji, but some deliveries are much tricker than they seem…!

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of my favourite Studio Ghibli films and I think I knew, somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, that it was based on a book. My other favourite Ghibli film, Howl’s Moving Castle, also is and I read that book ages ago now. Yet still, it took me by chance spotting this book on a table in the children’s section of Waterstones to think, “Of course it was a book first,” and, “I should definitely read it.” I bought it on the spot and couldn’t wait to get cracking on it.

Having seen the film first (and several times) before reading the book, a lot of my opinion is based on its comparison to the film. Which might have been unfair to the book, if it weren’t for the fact all the comparisons and all my opinions are positive!

Immediately it’s clear to see the film captured the mood and vibe and essence of the book really well. It is light and whimsical and full of fun. Actually, the book is more of all of those things, because the film added a deeper layer to the coming-of-age aspect of the story. Which, of course, I love, but it was also nice just reading a truly happy story.

The plot of the book is very simple. Young witch makes her way in the world by moving to a new town, making new friends, and delivering things on her broom. Each chapter is a new delivery adventure. It’s so simple and so lovely. I smiled a lot while reading this, and it had me laughing out loud a few times.

I loved all the characters, but my favourite is Jiji. He’s very similar to how he is the film. Full of slightly insecure snark and fragile ego. I was hoping against hope my favourite of his lines from the film would be in the book, but it wasn’t. However, there was a line that’s not in the film that I absolutely adored. It’s Jiji’s reaction when they first spot the sea…

“What, so it’s just a big puddle?” Jiji seemed dissatisfied.

There was artwork in my edition of the book, which was also fun and full of whimsy. The pages with illustrations were definitely the ones that got more of my attention. I wish they all could have been in colour like the cover, but alas.

kiki illustration

Having found reading a real struggle in recent years, this book was like a breath of fresh air. I don’t care that it was familiar because I’ve seen the film. I don’t care that it’s a children’s book. I don’t care that it’s got lots of pictures. I care that it’s invigorated my motivation for reading. I care that it’s made me want to pick up another book. I care that it made me happy.

Black from the Future

Black from the Future book coverTitle: Black from the Future

Author: Various

Summary: Black From the Future: A Collection of Black Speculative Writing encompasses the broad spectrum of Black speculative writing, including science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and Afrofuturism, all by Black women writers.

Editors Stephanie Andrea Allen and Lauren Cherelle have gathered the voices of twenty emerging and established voices in speculative fiction and poetry; writers who’ve imagined the weird and the wondrous, the futuristic and the fantastical, the shadowy and the sublime.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: Speculative science fiction and fantasy short stories and poems written by black women—how could i not want to read this book? I’ve been picking it up and reading a story so sporadically since i started it that it’s taken me months so finish, but that’s the beauty of short stories!

There are a lot of great stories in this collection. I loved starting them not knowing where they going—where on the speculative/science fiction/fantasy spectrum they would fall. The book started strong with a story about a mother and daughter taking refuge while on the run… and who may or may not be vampires.

A lot of the stories in the book are quite out there, and i love that. A woman and her time travelling bird wife trying to go to back change her relationship with her mother, a hairdresser with six hands who changes your life and eats your nightmares, a shop that sells nothing but salt and take hair as payment.

Others had more horror elements to them. The aforementioned vampires, a woman using a home AI device to care for her unborn child but not her pregnant wife, a factory explosion causing daylight to become harmful to women, a young girl turning the tables on a would-be abuser and cooking him for her family’s dinner.

There are so many really great ideas, and that they are written by and about the experiences of black women is a very much at the forefront of most of them. It’s clear the writers are taking their own experiences and turning them into bold, passionate stories with wonderful well-rounded characters, and such a lot of heart.

The only things that bring the overall rating down for me are the poems, which. Well, is certainly a me-issue, as I have a very turbulent relationship with poetry. The ones in this book simply weren’t for me. Some of the writing in places was quite amateurish, though not necessarily in hugely detrimental way. It just left me with an less polished impression of the book as a whole.

I will certainly be checking out a few of the authors in the book to see what other things they have written. Hopefully plenty more weird and wonderful stories to enjoy!

Binti

binti smallTitle: Binti

Author: Nnedi Okorafor

Summary: Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itselfbut first she has to make it there, alive.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I read and enjoyed Okorafor’s Lagoongosh, five years ago now! I had mixed feelings on that book, mostly thanks to my own expectations. I’m a little sad it took me so long to pick up another of her books, because I loved Binti!

Binti is a short book at only 90 pages, but those 90 pages pack a lot of world building, character exploration, and story. It felt significantly longer than it is and most definitely in a good way!

Binti is the main character, ostracised from her home for sneaking away to go to university, she is an outsider in every way. I liked her immediately. There are quite a few other characters mentioned in passing, but only a couple we spend any significant time with. Okwu is the other important character, and even though at first there is strong animosity between them and Binti, I liked Okwu immediately.

Considering most of the story is spent on a spaceship, and a significant portion with Binti confined to one room of that ship, we get such a sense of several different worlds. Binti’s home world, Oomza University, as well space travel and how it works (living, breathing spaceships? I want to know more!). We also hear about multiple cultures and species, how war has spread between them, and how even through all their differences the motivations and emotionsthe good and the badare so very recognisable and relatable.

It’s just a great story told beautifully and succinctly. I can’t wait to read the sequel and to see more about Binti and Okwu, their time at university, and the worlds only glimpsed so far.

Disturbing the Beast

distrubing the beast smallTitle: Disturbing the Beast

Author: Various

Summary: The best of women’s weird fiction

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I love short stories. I love weird fiction. I love women-led narratives. Of course I supported this book on kickstarter. It took me a while to get around to reading it, but that’s because I have a lot of unread books, and also because I haven’t been reading much these past couple of years.

I should have loved this book. And I did love some of the stories. Dolly, about a woman who was cloned to re-live the life of the girl she was cloned from, and Burning Girl, about a literal girl on fire, were stand-out stories for me. They both explored the characters’ lives, freedoms, and autonomy (or lack thereof). Their sense of self and of hiding part of themselves for the benefit of others.

The concepts of these two stories in particular spoke to me, but they also stood apart from the rest for another reason. The women in these stories and their plots weren’t defined by or dependent on the men in them.

Almost (almost) every other story in the book included women whose lives and choices were dependant on and affected by men. A woman who consumes men, a woman whose lineage descended from an act of sexual violence, women literally knitting themselves husbands, a woman whose touch becomes electric following the death of one man and returns to normal after she saves the life of another man.

These stories weren’t bad, but I am quite tired of women’s stories, women’s lives, and women’s purpose being defined by the men in them.

One of the stories that I loved and couldn’t stop reading was Wrapped, about a female Egyptologist who discovers the tomb of a lost female pharaoh. The way the story of the pharaoh and the Egyptologist run parallel, like history repeating itself, was well crafted and left me with strong emotions. The men in the story were used to illustrate the inherent sexism and control women have experienced for centuries, rather than any driving force or meaning to the main character as an individual–they helped or hindered her, they did not define her.

While I would certainly look out for stories and books by several of the authors in the future, overall the collection as a whole feels just slightly amateurish. That’s not a criticism, though. Simply an observation. An observation I think would benefit the reader and the stories if you know in advance.

Northern Lights

Title: Northern Lights

Author: Philip Pullman

Summary: Lyra Belacqua lives half-wild and carefree among the scholars of Jordan College, with her daemon familiar always by her side. But the arrival of her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, draws her to the heart of a terrible struggle – a struggle born of Gobblers and stolen children, witch clans and armoured bears.

As she hurtles towards danger in the cold far North, Lyra never suspects the shocking truth: she alone is destined to win, or to lose, the biggest battle imaginable.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: The first book I’ve finished in 2020! Yes, it’s July. This year has been and continues to be A Struggle. Reader’s block is absolutely a thing. After starting and not finishing several books, I decided to give an audiobook a try. It came with its own problems, but I finished the thing, so it’s a win.

I had seen the recent BBC adaptation of this book, so knew the plot. I was actually counting on that to help me with actually finishing the book. And in fact, in some ways, it helped me enjoy the book more. Knowing what was coming, namely the tragic end for one of the characters, made moments earlier in the book and leading up to it hit much heavier than they would have. I was actually crying at a couple of points, understanding the meanings behind things and how certain aspects played out.

The book was actually quite dark, which I enjoyed. There were a few moments where I winced, thinking of younger readers experiencing the clear violence and trauma. But I do think it’s important that the book doesn’t shy away from it, either. It’s exploring the importance and anguish of the fantasy concept of having a daemon, and allows the reader to understand and connect with that deeply.

For me the characters were mostly very clear cut good or bad. Which is fine, though I prefer the morally grey. I loved Lyra, our lead character. She has such passion and intelligence and determination. I loved Roger, her best friend and side kick, and how they would obviously do anything for each other. I loved Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear, with his wisdom and kindness and strength. I hated Lord Asriel and the size of his ego–he might have been intelligent, but he was cruel. I hated Mrs Coulter and her false affection and manipulation. I didn’t hate, but found myself disliking Lee Scoresby and his brash American-ness. Though I am hoping some characters will become more complex and interesting over the course of the sequels.

What I enjoyed most were the main themes of the story. Daemons and the connections humans share with them. Dust and where it comes from and how it affects people. Parallel universes and trying to reach them. These and the characters I loved will be what draws me back to listen to the sequels. I’m quite excited about them, now I have no idea about where the story goes.

The Book of Forks

Title: The Book of Forks

Author: Rob Davis

Summary: Castro Smith finds himself imprisoned within the mysterious Power Station, writing his Book of Forks while navigating baffling daily meetings with Poly, a troubled young woman who may be his teacher, his doctor, his prison guard . . . or something else entirely. Meanwhile, back home, Vera and Scarper’s search for their missing friend takes them through the chaotic war zone of the Bear Park and into new and terrifying worlds. With The Book of Forks, Rob Davis completes his abstract adventure trilogy by stepping inside Castro’s disintegrating mind to reveal the truth about the history of the world, the meaning of existence, and the purpose of kitchen scales.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: The third and final book in Davis’ The Motherless Oven trilogy, I couldn’t wait to get my hands and eyeballs on it. I was sad my copy didn’t come with a bookplate, as I had hoped to frame and display all three, but the book is obviously more important.

This book has as much weird and wonderfulness as the first two. With the main characters venturing out beyond the boarders of The Bear Park, where (almost) all of them have lived for their entire lives, we get to see new places and new ways in which these worlds are strange, bizarre, and fascinating. Guerilla postmen, exploding people, diseases as gods, and rotting corpses on the street. And of course we see more of Castro’s book (can you guess what it’s called?), which explores the history and nature of this world in all its peculiarness.

The art, as ever, is beautiful. Simple, but with such amazing detail. The faces are definitely my favourite, varying from plain and unobtrusive in wider panels, slightly more detailed in more medium panels, to perfectly detailed with amazing subtleties in expression and character in the really close panels. I could look at the faces alone for quite a while. Pages from Castro’s book are presented as a kind of divide between chapters and two alternating storylines, which worked well, and I loved the layout and illustrations, as well as the contrasting white-on-black of those pages.

People accept whatever absurdity surrounds them as reality. And yet, to question this absurdity is to become absurd.

I five-star loved the first two books in this series, but unfortunately this book didn’t hit me with quite the same amazement. I really enjoyed this one, it just… It’s longer than either of the first two, but it also feels like less happens for some reason. I think the story races to its conclusion, trying to tie all the threads together, but is also trying to cram in a lot of new things (Castro’s personal story, his book, the other death states, the postmen…). It just doesn’t fully work. And as much as i enjoyed the pages from Castro’s book, they were often a little… much. Whole pages of text in a graphic novel, and switching from panels to full bodies of text and back again made for slow progress, an inconsistent reading pattern, and loss of focus. I loveloveloved Castro’s insightfulness and theories on the strange things the characters in this world accept as normal, but this book made me realise I loved them in context and in brief. Entire pages with numerous (useless) footnotes failed to keep my interest as high.

Overall I do love this series, and it will certainly be one I’d love to revisit. Likely i will choose to read this installment in two halves–the story told in panels, then all the pages from Castro’s book separately. I think I would enjoy it a lot more that way.

Goddess Mode

Title: Goddess Mode

Author: Zoe Quinn, Robbi Rodriguez (Illustrator)

Summary: In a near future where all of humanity’s needs are administered by a godlike A.I., it’s one young woman’s horrible job to do tech support on it. But when Cassandra finds herself violently drawn into a hidden and deadly digital world beneath our own, she discovers a group of super-powered women and horrific monsters locked in a secret war for the cheat codes to reality.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4

Review: I’ve been reading these comics as they’ve come out, which isn’t something I normally do because I have no patience and want to read it all at once. But my partner was the one buying them, and they were there and the story sounded interesting and by the second or third comic i was hooked. So here were are.

It’s a no-brainer, really–this series has everything I love. Science fiction, strong female leads, bright colours with a gritty realism, intrigue, and cliffhangers. The dystopian world the story is set in is one that is easy to imagine in our foreseeable future. Adverts everywhere you look because you have nanotech in your eyeballs, a holographic AI popping up to tell you things, oh, and an entire digital world, pseudo-superheroes, and the monsters they fight. That last bit is less foreseeable.

The story is pretty complex for short six-part comics, but never overwhelmingly so. With four main characters and at least four more supporting, they all have their own backstory and character development which feeds into the story as a whole. I loved the main-main character, Cassandra. Her spunky attitude and great hair made me fond very quickly. She’s smart, but overwhelmed, and with huge emotional investment in everything that goes on. My other favourite characters were Tatyanna for her misanthropic cynicism and well-hidden kindness, and Antimony for rocking that eye patch and being so much more than the mother of monsters she was taken for.

Of course, the artwork is freaking gorgeous. So much bright, rich texture and depth. How vibrant Azoth, the digital world, is compared to the “real” analogue world. The quiet simplicity in some frames and the bold chaotic action in others. It’s definitely a comic I’ve wanted to stop and look at a lot more than others, and completely brings to life this incredible world in a science fiction and fantasy mix.

The ending wonderfully tied up several plot threads and left me feeling satisfied, while also unravelling a few more and leaving me in anticipation of a sequel. And now I wait…


Even That Wildest Hope

Title: Even That Wildest Hope

Author: Seyward Goodhand

Summary: The highly anticipated debut short story collection by Journey Prize finalist Seyward Goodhand bursts with vibrant, otherworldly characters—wax girls and gods among men, artists on opposite sides of a war, aimless plutocrats and anarchist urchins—who are sometimes wondrous, often grotesque, and always driven by passions and yearnings common to us all. Stylistic and primordial, Even That Wildest Hope is a chaotic but always satisfying fabulist journey in the baroque tradition of Angela Carter, Carmen Maria Machado, and Ted Chiang.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher via netgalley. A collection of perculiar short stories, it sounded exactly up my street. And in many ways it was… but it also took me over a month to read.

Goodhand certainly has a wonderful ability to take basic human feelings and struggles and portray them in bizarre and unusual narratives. Emotions made physical, philosophical concepts became human, and moral debates turned into fairy tales.

I loved a lot of the stories in this book. Several were must-keep-reading good. So I Can Win, the Galatrax must Die, about an… unusual… superfood and the lengths people go to to consume it. The Fur Trader’s Daughter, about family, love, and what truly makes us human. The Gamins of Winnipeg, about staying true to yourself verses playing the game of life. The Parachute, about passion and success and jealously. Hansel, Gretel, and Katie, a wonderful twist on the classic that kept me guessing till the very end.

Though I would say none of the stories in this collection were bad, some dragged more than others. Enkidu, about the unequal relationship between a man and a god, and Pastoral, about a woman defined by the men who pursue her and the life experiences she had no choice in, were both very interesting stories, but I took days to read both. They felt stretched out and unnecessarily long–my investment in the stories began to lag because I needed them to move a little faster.

The other stories were fairly short, wonderfully weird, and oddly moving. Felix Baumgartner’s Guardian Angel, about a reluctant guardian angel following its ward into a dangerous situation. What Bothers a Woman of the World, about a woman’s emotional vulnerability taking physical form and the relationship she has with it. Embassy Row, about a group of secluded couples without care or responsibilities trying to find meaning in their lives.

Every story provided a lot of food for thought and although I have my favourites, each and every story has stayed with me in its own way.

Overall this book was fairly mixed bag. Some strong 4- and 5-star stories, but definitely a few 2- and 3-stars as well. Hence the middle-ground rating of 3.5. I think everyone will find a story to love in this book, but not every story will be someone’s cup of tea.

Ismyre

Title: Ismyre

Author: B. Mure

Summary: In the city of Ismyre, Ed the sculptor works as his widower neighbour sings strange melodies late into the night.

Meanwhile, across the city, a government building explodes into a mess of plants and flowers, and B. Mure’s enchanting story of mystery and fantasy begins…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: This was an impulse buy from my local comic book shop. I have my most successful random purchases with graphic novels, and this one is another win. I couldn’t resist that blurb, and the book didn’t let me down.

The story follows Ed. He sits quietly in his flat, sculpting small wooden figures, and saying “Hm” a lot. I liked him immediately. We also meet the prime minister, who’s dealing with missing people and government buildings blowing up in flowers; Faustine, a friendly but evasive magic user with adorable kids; and the widow, a lady who lives near Ed and sings a lot. The story involves Faustine helping Ed hunt for some of his sculptures that are being stolen, as well as creating a large ice sculpture commissioned by the prime minister. But the plot is almost–almost–incidental. The real focus is on the quiet, lonely nature of the world and the easy, light friendship that builds between Ed and Faustine.

And the art. Oh, the art. Blues, reds, greens, and yellows… melding and overlapping or in stark contrast, light and sparse or bold and filling the frame. How four colours in varying shades and strengths can evoke such varied moods and atmospheres is incredibly done. The characters are all humanoid animals–cats, dogs, crocodiles, birds, deers, frogs, mice… And the line work, walking that fine and beautiful line between neat and tidy, and rough and ready. It feels casual, but is so detailed without being overwhelming. It’s just bloody gorgeous, honestly.

There are two other books by Mure set in the city of Ismyre, and i’ve already added them to my to-read list. I can’t wait to spend more time in the quiet, peculiar little town. My two favourite things from the book were two very simple quotes. I’ll leave you with them and their pages from the book.

Hm.

Very interesting, mostly useless.

Hm.mostly useless