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.

Wild Embers

wild embersTitle: Wild Embers

Author: Nikita Gill

Summary: You cannot burn away
What has always been aflame

Wild Embers explores the fire that lies within every soul, weaving words around ideas of feeling at home in your own skin, allowing yourself to heal and learning to embrace your uniqueness with love from the universe.

Featuring rewritten fairytale heroines, goddess wisdom and poetry that burns with revolution, this collection is an explosion of femininity, empowerment and personal growth.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: It is a well-established fact that i have a tumultuous relationship with poetry. Some collections have struck a chord with my so deeply I’ve wept, others have left me completely baffled and unmoved. This book? This book did both, and a little more.

I read the book over several months, because my ability to finish a book has been severely hampered the last couple of years. That may have played a part in why my opinion is so divided, but if so it is a minor factor.

The first half of the book, I devoured. I was underlining and annotating almost every other poem. There was so much that resonated for me—so much that spoke to me, meant something to me, gave words to my own feelings. Several poems reminded me of songs and sentiments expressed elsewhere, and felt warm and familiar for it. I wrote the lyrics beside them, joined them in my mind and let them share space in my heart. And i love that feeling.

The second half of the book was more hit and miss for me. There were still some strong poems. Still moments where i was moved to underline and mark and make notes. There were some that were not bad, but that simply didn’t speak to me personally. And then there were some that… fell far, far short.

Unfortunately the poems that missed the mark for me missed hard. They didn’t leave me feeling nothing—they left me feeling angry and alienated. While i loved the re-written fairy tales, recasting the damsels in distress as heroes who fight for themselves, i baulked with distaste at equating womanhood to being in possession of a womb and being able to create life. I am much more than my reproductive system, and my worth and meaning will not be reduced to that alone.

There were far more poems i loved than poems i didn’t in this book. If there had just been a selection that didn’t quite hit my own emotions, I’d have given this book four stars. However, the handful of poems that I actually found disagreeable and crass weigh heavier than the pages they are printed on, and I cannot overlook them.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Title: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Author: Douglas Adams

Summary: One Thursday lunchtime the Earth gets unexpectedly destroyed to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. For Arthur Dent, who has only just had his house demolished that morning, this seems already to be more than he can cope with. Sadly, however, the weekend has only just began, and the Galaxy is a very strange and startling place.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: After failing spectacularly at reading during 2020, i have set my sights incredibly low for 2021. I have a goal of six books, and the low-pressure of ensuring those books are whatever i want. Graphic novels, short story magazines, and novellas? Yes please.

Which brings me to my first book of 2021: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ve seen the film, so I knew the basic plot. Science fiction is pretty much my favourite genre (if you’re making me choose!). I know it’s light-hearted and silly. And, obviously, it’s short. I started reading it on the first of January with the only aim to finish it by the end of the month. Yay me–I managed it!

Overall, I really enjoyed it. It has plenty of chuckle and snort out loud moments (nothing quite as strong as a laugh). The dialogue was perfection–so simple, with characters repeating themselves and stating the obvious and just… being real, i suppose. It was (pardon the pun) down to earth, relatable, and made for easy reading.

The characters are fun, and while the book as a whole is quite cheerful, it does touch on a couple more serious things. Namely Zaphod’s discovery that he has messed with his own brain and memories, and Marvin the robot’s depression. My favourite character by far is our main lead, Arthur Dent. He’s just… so… frank? Restrained? Unassertive? British? He somehow both doesn’t at all keep up with the new world around him, and also keeps up so well he gets ahead of it a time or two. And, of course, there’s my favourite line:

Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he realised what it was.
“Is there any tea on this spaceship?” he asked.

For a book set in space, it is very British, and I can’t deny I love that about it.

My main issue with the book is how hard it’s trying. To be silly, to include random facts, and to elbow in little stories. I enjoy silly random facts and stories as much as anyone who picks up this book knowing what they’re getting into. But. But i like them to be relevant to the story, not just a random aside. This links in strongly with my dislike of footnotes; I just think if it’s important enough to mention–put it in the main body of the bloody story. This book bypasses that issue by putting random snippets not at all important in the main body of the story. It did feel like being forced to read footnotes and i kind of hated it.

Of course, only having one female character and all the action happening at the very start and very end of the book didn’t help either.

But still, overall it was a good read. As light-hearted and fun as i’d expected, if not quite as outstanding overall as i’d hoped. I’ll probably give the next book in the series a go, mostly because i have no idea what happens in the sequels, and that could be even more fun.

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.

Doctor Sleep

Title: Doctor Sleep

Author: Stephen King

Summary: Following a childhood haunted by terrifying events at the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance has been drifting for decades.

Finally, he settles into a job at a nursing home where he draws on his remnant ‘shining’ power to help people pass on.

Then he meets Abra Stone, a young girl with the brightest ‘shining’ ever seen. But her gift is attracting a tribe of paranormals. They may look harmless, old and devoted to their Recreational Vehicles, but The True Knot live off the ‘steam’ that children like Abra produce.

Now Dan must confront his old demons as he battles for Abra’s soul and survival…

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I re-read The Shining before i dived into this book, and I’m honestly not sure if that was a good thing to do or not. Immediately it’s obvious that King’s writing style has improved in the years between books. It’s just more natural and I was instantly drawn into the world, the familiar characters, and the aftermath of The Shining. My hopes were quickly set quite high.

The Shining is a tough act to follow, and obviously King knew that. Doctor Sleep felt quieter, to me… and I liked that. It’s not trying to out shine (pun intended!) its predecessor, but do something different while expanding on the supernatural lore of ‘the shining’, as well as the nature of addiction. And the first half of the book had me hooked. Seeing Danny Torrence as a boy, dealing with the trauma from The Overlook and the ghosts that followed him (figuratively and literally); growing up and dealing with the trauma less-well, turning to drink. The story really gets going when Dan finds himself in Frazier, knowing this is where he needs to be.

This book has a lot more characters than The Shining. The Shining was limited to the Torrances–a family of three–and a few supporting characters(/ghosts), but Doctor Sleep has Dan, Dan’s friends and colleagues, Abra and her family, as well as the numerous members of the True Knot. They are a lot to keep track of at first, but the main players soon stand out. Billy, the first person Dan meets in Frazier, was an instant favourite for me. He was just so pure and lovely, and i was immediately thinking, “he’d better survive this book!” Another favourite was Concetta, Abra’s grandmother. A poet, a strong and independent woman, and just so level headed and no-nonsense.

Less-great aspects to the characters were the fact that it was the men who see all the action. It’s Dan, his AA BFF, and Abra’s dad who road trip around and confront some bad guys. All the friends Dan makes in Frazier are blokes. We get Abra, who’s strong and sassy and takes no shit. I loved her. But we also have her mum, who’s shown as being very emotional and reactive, compared to her husband. Even Wendy, Dan’s mum and determined fighter from The Shining, is reduced to a woman who needs to be protected by her young son and who smokes herself to death… she deserved so much more. And there’s Rose the Hat and Snakebite Andi… the crazy evil ladies. And of course at least one of them needs a sexual abuse back story that’s passed off as character development. In fact there were several points were all the female characters (bar Concetta; she was too old, but yes including 14-year-old Abra) were unnecessarily sexualised. Might have just been a throw away line… no big deal, you might say… expect there’s no point to it! It’s a throw away line with no purpose but to frustrate the shit out of me and give a hard side-eye the author.

As much as it was interesting to learn more about ‘the shining’ and Abra’s abilities, what I really loved most about the book was the exploration of the human horrors. So, very much what i liked about The Shining, now i come to think about it. Dan’s alcoholism, the depths he finds himself in and his struggle to claw himself out, his AA journey and the friends he makes along the way, and most of all the secret he keeps for so, so long and how it ate at him. It was that story line and its conclusion that i was most invested in and most emotional about.

The True Knot were a fascinating new aspect to the book. An old group (in more ways than one) of people with certain abilities themselves, who travel around the country and feed off of the ‘steam’ that children with ‘the shine’ possess. Rose the Hat, their leader, was especially intriguing and equal parts wonderful and terrible. The group’s entire history and way of life was interesting, and I would love to have read more, perhaps got to know a few more characters. Where the True Knot fell down for me, is as the horrifying bad guys. Yes, they were the bad guys, and yes, they were horrifying… but at no point did i think they’d have a chance of winning. As the reader, i know we know the bad guys aren’t going to win, but the stakes have to be high enough that i worry for the good guys. I was never worried for the good guys. Splitting the group up, a botched kidnapping, along with Rose the Hat’s constant poor decisions and gradual decline into rage and irrationality… the stakes were never high enough.

When i re-read The Shining i had to put the book down and take breaks because it made me so anxious and only increased the tension with every page. In contrast, i found myself putting Doctor Sleep down and not picking it back up for several days at a time. I was enjoying it, sure, but the successful outcome for the good guys was so clearly inevitable that the ride to get there wasn’t that enticing.

The last niggling thing… Abra’s emotions. The rage and the strength were clear throughout the book, and that alone would be interesting to explore. That would make Dan’s advise to her at the end of the book perfect and fitting. No, the thing that niggles me is that smile, those cocky lines, and her enjoyment. She didn’t simply get angry and need to break something… she got angry and wanted to hurt someone. By about two thirds of the way through the book alarm bells were ringing for me. Abra was so, so powerful, but every time she grinned, got sassy, or expressed pleasure in her actions I recoiled a little bit. Honestly, Abra was the scariest thing about this book. I really thought that would have been addressed more than it was at the end of the book. If King isn’t planning another sequel that deals with a grow up Abra turned bad, then this book really dropped the ball on her character.

Overall I did enjoy this book, mostly Dan’s story and battle with alcoholism, and seeing him make a life for himself. I would be interested in another book with an adult Abra… to see how adulthood treats her, like we’ve now seen for Dan. For all the things i’ve moaned about, the things i loved about the book, i loved.

Record of a Spaceborn Few

Title: Record of a Spaceborn Few

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: From the ground, we stand.
From our ships, we live.
By the stars, we hope.

Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat.

Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened.

Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn’t know where to find it.

Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong.

When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question:

What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: This is the third book in the Wayfarers series, and I absolutely adored the first too. So, of course, my expectations for this one were almost astronomically high. When it took me nearly two months to read this book, I was a little disappointed.

Now, let me start by saying this book isn’t bad. This book has all the wonderful, warm, friendly, and inviting writing of Chambers’ other work. It’s easy to read, curled up with a cup of tea. It has ups and downs, but never so much that it’s stressful or overly tense. It folds you into the pages with its words and you could happily stay there forever.

It has fantastically complex and interesting characters. Kip was my favourite; a teenager ready to really start living his life, but finding himself cautious and unsure of what to do with himself. Eyas was another wonderful character; she seemed wise beyond her years in many ways, but despite having the most respected job in the fleet isn’t happy or fulfilled enough.

It has incredible world building, awesome science fiction, explores engaging concepts, and depicts more unusual lifestyle choices with respect. The fleet is incredible–a collection of huge ships, on which humans live in large and small communities. The way they have adapted to life in space, while still keeping many aspects and traditions from Earth is bizarre and unique. The ideas of being afraid of being on land, of favouring a barter system over currency, of embracing the new while not losing all of the old… these are so interesting to examine and consider. I loved that sex work is a vital part of the fleet and, like most things, is provided free to anyone who needs it, and the reasons people both make use of the service and choose the line of work is thoughtfully and wonderfully done. This is the same for open relationships, communal living, and more much subtler things.

But.

But I’m only giving this book three and a half stars. For all I loved the things above, this book lacked cohesion. Other than one or two small overlapping events, there was no one driving story to this book. That may be wholly intentional. Each of the main characters has their own, smaller story. A personal journey. More like four or five vignettes than a singular cohesive novel. Which, I might have enjoyed more, but for the fact it feels like the individuals’ stories have attempted to be pulled together under some vague all-encompassing umbrella, but misses the mark. I enjoyed the book when I was reading it, but with a lack of driving action, of true stakes, and binding narrative… i had very little desire to pick it up and continue reading it. It was nice, but it wasn’t thrilling. It was well-written and interesting, but lacked any kind of powerful plot. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

Chambers remains an auto-buy author for me, and I do look forward to whatever she has coming next… I just hope it has the momentum A Spaceborn Few was missing.

Little Fires Everywhere

Title: Little Fires Everywhere

Author: Celeste Ng

Summary: In the placid, progressive suburb of Shaker Height everything this meticulously planned, from the colours of the houses, to the successful lives of its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson.

Mia Warren, an enigmatic artist and single mother, arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon, Mia and Peral become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children and drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a disregard for the rules that threaten to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle errupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs Richardson on opposing sides. Mrs Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession with come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family–and Mia’s.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I read and loved Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You, so I was really excited to get hold of her second book and set about reading it.

Compared to the previous book, with its incredible first-line hook, this was a slow burn. The first chapter, starting at the end of the story, sets out a lot of questions about how the book will get us there, but didn’t immediately strike me with a ‘must keep reading’ feeling.

Getting to know the characters, their situations, and their motivations was also a slow process. With eight characters at the forefront of the narrative (plus a few more important ones introduced along the way), this was important ground work, and the set up was worth it for the pay off. But it was still challenging to get past that and really get into the story.

It wasn’t until chapter seven, when we properly meet the elusive Izzy, that things really picked up for me. Ahead of this we’d met the other members of the Richardson family, all of whom were well-do-to, average, and utterly boring. Of course there was also the Warren mother/daughter duo who, while not exactly driving the plot along, were more interesting and mysterious. It was Izzy, though, with her fire, independence, caring, and no-shits-to-give attitude who really intrigued me.

The title, most obviously and as revealed in the opening chapter, refers to how the fire at the Richardson’s home was set, but more accurately it is about the smaller plots of the book. The simmering, unspoken feud between Mrs Richardson and Mia; the family dynamics of the Richardsons; the teenage drama, hormones, and life-changing mistakes of all the children; the legal proceedings and claims to an abandoned baby; and–most fascinating to me–Mia’s history. These were the real little fires, everywhere around Shaker Heights.

I loved the overall ending–how all those little fires burnt and spread and changed everything forever. But most of all I loved how open a lot of things were. We know the ideas people head, where they planned to go and what they hoped would happen, but we can’t follow them there. I like to imagine the best for Mia and Pearl and Izzy… I like to imagine the others will get by, but never in quite the same way.

The last few days I’ve had a severe headache and lethargy, and all I could really bring myself to do was read, so I actually ended up reading over half of this book in pretty much one sitting. I’m not sure if this has affected my opinions on the book or not, but I do think I might have struggled to read more than a chapter a day otherwise. As it was, I  couldn’t manage much else, so I let myself get lost in this book while I wasn’t well.

While I didn’t enjoy this book as much as Everything I Never Told You, I did enjoy it. Ng knows what she’s doing and crafts a well thought out, intriguing, and genuine set of characters and events. I’ll look forward to her next novel.

The Liar’s Key

Title: The Liar’s Key

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: The Red Queen has set her players on the board…

Winter is keeping Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the luxuries of his southern palace. And although the North may be home to his companion, the warrior Snorri ver Snagason, he is just as eager to leave.

For the Viking is ready to challenge all of Hel to bring his wife and children back into the living world. He has Loki’s key – now all he needs is to find the door.

As all wait for the ice to unlock its jaws, the Dead King plots to claim what was so nearly his – the key into the world – so that the dead can rise and rule.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I read and loved Prince of Fools last year, and I was determined to read this series quicker than I managed to read The Broken Empire series. Which is why The Liar’s Key was the first book i picked up this year. Lawrence’s writing is always clever and an effortless mix of humour and heart. This book was no different.

Our main character, Jalan, was just as much a delightful prick as he was in the first book. Self-declared squeamish coward, but with so much self-deceit he almost has no idea who he really is. He continues to do brave and noble things, while convincing himself he’s selfishly just trying to make his own life easier. I kind of adore him. Snorri is… still very much Snorri. Self-assured, headstrong, and… the regular kind of strong. Dragging his friends across Europe on a dangerous quest to open the door to Hel and find his dead family. Tuttugu i didn’t remember clearly from the first book, but i adored in this book. A kind, soft heart following his countryman and friend into dangerous situations because it’s the right thing to do.

We also get a couple of new characters. Kara, a witch who joins their journey and helps them along the way, but who clearly has something to hide. I loved having a main female character join the group, and i loved her immunity to Jal’s “charms” and advances. Her secrets and unclear motivations were intriguing, but also made me wary of her. Hennan, a young boy they pick up almost randomly and pointlessly along the way… for a long time he was a bit part, barely speaking and adding nothing to the plot. But he grew on me by the end.

Now, this book took me the entirety of January to read. That’s not usual. Most other of Lawrence’s books i’ve finished in 2-3 weeks. But this one… this one took a while to really get going for me. The first half… nothing really happens. Nothing of larger consequence, anyway. It’s a meander. A travel blog. They get into some hairy situations, meet a few folk along the way… but there is nothing significant driving the plot. Only Snorri’s desire to use the key to open the door to Hel and find his family… which isn’t shared by our main character… or any other character. This led to there not being much drive for me to pick up the book to keep reading. I still read regularly, but I didn’t read much each time–only one chapter or less.

I really enjoyed Jal’s dream-jaunts into his family’s past. Seeing his grandmother, the Red Queen, as a young girl so ruthless and ready for action. His great aunt and uncle by their sister’s side, the three of them an almost unstoppable force, even at such a young age. Those snippets gave Jal and the reader so much more information about the war being fought, the motivations, and actions, and just how long the game has been in play.

It wasn’t until about halfway through that things really seemed to pick up some. When their journey brought them to Red March, and Jal saw his home town as the end of his travels. Of course, as the reader, it was obviously anything but. But seeing him trying to slip back into his old life, while finding nothing quite the same as it was and not deriving the same pleasures from it… that was brilliant to watch unfold. The story culminates in Florence, and the last 200 pages were where this book really shone for me–I couldn’t read those last 10 chapters quick enough!

As much as a lot of this book seemed too slow and meandering, it ended on such a high, with a great final showdown of wits and smarts and conversation. It has me very keen to read the last in The Red Queen’s War series. I hope Jal continues to acknowledge his own skills, courage, and caring. I hope he and Snorri get into some wonderfully dangerous adventures. I hope he kills Edris Dean with his own goddamn sword. I hope he just generally saves the fucking day, honestly.

Face

Title: Face

Author: Rosario Villajos

Summary: Face is a magical autobiography about identity, the escape of oneself towards love and the fight to fit in and be “normal” in our society.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: The cover of this book, and the short blurb on the back, caught my attention very quickly. I couldn’t help but pick it up at my local comic book shop and bring it home. And like most random purchases of this manner, it did not disappoint.

The premise is simple enough: the book is about a young woman with no face. It follows her as she struggles to build relationships and explores how she feels that she doesn’t fit in with everyone else. Sound familiar? It should. I’m sure everyone has gone through similar struggles. Because the concept isn’t about looks–it’s about identity. Face (as the character is known) studies the faces of the people around her and tries to emulate them, she begins a relationship and finds herself becoming them. She looks to external sources to find herself, with poor results.

It was the end of the book that stood out for me, when she begins to notice just how many other people around her also have no faces–as also struggling with their own identity and place in the world. That we’re all just stumbling through life trying to figure things out.

The art work is mostly black and white, with colour used rarely, but to good effect. The style of the art changes throughout, too. The general panels are fairly simply, while the portraits of people the character takes note of and are important to her are rendered with such careful precision. It all blends and works beautifully together, giving so much life and texture to the pages and the story.

My favourite pages were the chapter markers–1, 2, and 3. Their simplicity, but careful detail were stunning, and how they capture the essence of each chapter is perfect. I particularly love the heart of chapter one. That’s frame-worthy.

Sealed

sealedTitle: Sealed

Author: Naomi Booth

Summary: Heavily pregnant Alice and her partner Pete are done with the city. Above all, Alice is haunted by the rumours of the skin sealing epidemic starting to infect the urban population. Surely their new remote mountain house will offer safety, a place to forget the nightmares and start their little family. But the mountains and their people hold a different kind of danger. With their relationship under intolerable pressure, violence erupts and Alice is faced with the unthinkable as she fights to protect her unborn child.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I was given a free copy of this book by the publisher via their twitter account, and i was quite intrigued by the sound of it. Described as an “eco horror” it instantly sounded interesting to me.

I loved the “eco” side of the story, with the mysterious new cutis disease, the smog of the cities, the wild fires of the mountains, and “protected” food. There was also some political aspects, with some cutis cover ups, displacement camps run like prisons, a lack of local resources. It had a lot of dystopian-vibes, but doesn’t quite delve deep enough; it’s more pre-dystopian.

Although it had these themes, they were only really lightly touched upon in the grand scheme of the story. The focus was on our main character, Alice, and her partner, Pete. I’ll be honest–i didn’t like them. I felt for Alice, with her cutis obsession and being cut off from information and updates, but she was also weak and pathetic in the face of Pete’s dominance and control. He tells her to stop thinking, asking, worrying, distracting… he just wants to fit in with his new friends and not have to give a shit about his girlfriend’s fears and emotions. He was a knobhead.

In almost every chapter there is more revealed about the past. The history of cutis, of Alice and Pete’s relationship and childhoods, of the death of Alice’s mother and how this has affected her. And while this was interesting stuff to learn, the segues seemed a little too forced to me. There was a scene with Alice suddenly taking an interest in flowers as a reason for her to rummage for her mum’s gardening books to then start remembering her mum’s garden to lead into the past. I wondered if the strange flower Alice had found was related to the cutis epidemic or the environmental changes, but no. Instead, flowers and gardening are never mentioned again.

The last chapter was where the horror aspect really stepped up, with things happening as i’d been expecting them to since chapter two. The unkempt house down the road, the crotchety old man with a gun, the heavily pregnant woman… I loved how cutis played its part here, i loved the unreality of Alice’s experience and how that came across in the writing, and, as a horror fan, i loved the gore.

Overall, the story was very character-driven and -focused. Too much so for my own personal taste. It was far more about Alice’s psychological state of mind and how she copes (or doesn’t cope) with the events unfolding around her, rather than those events themselves. The end of the book was great–on the cusp of the dystopian future i’d be fascinated to read more about.