Monday, 25 April 2016

Library Haul: The April Edition

When I started getting more into graphic novels and comics, I figured that it was time to start getting back into using the library.  Unfortunately, my local library's opening hours have been reduced significantly over the last couple of years, leaving only a two hour window available to those of us that work full time. Really, though, that's no excuse for me not to use it.  I live about a five minute walk from the library.  Using it makes me feel as though I'm proving in some small way that it's still a valuable part of the community.  Rather than spending a not insignificant sum starting a comic series that I'm not sure about yet, I can spend 90p to get my local library to source a copy from across the city and bring it to my village for me.  

Once I'd started ordering a few comics, I got a bit click-happy and reserved a couple of other books that were high up on my wishlist but that I now can't buy because I've promised Boyfriend that I won't buy books while we're saving for a wedding (I know - I'm a fool).  It turns out that the Leeds library system has a lot more rattling around in it than I gave it credit for!

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd has been on my wishlist for a long time.  I was first interested in it when it was first published just because it sounded deliciously creepy.  Then I listened to The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells and, while looking into that story, finally noticed that The Madman's Daughter tells the story of Dr Moreau's daughter and that the later books in the series play similarly with Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.  They sound excellent so I'm desperately hoping that I won't be disappointed.

The next one on that pile is a multi-renewer: If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino.  I actually first picked this one up in February and I still really want to read it but I've just not quite got round to it yet.

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye is a recent release and one that was still being acquired by the library when I ordered it.  It's been a few years since I read Jane Eyre but I remember how much I loved it.  It's one I'd love to re-read one day and I don't say that lightly.  This gothic re-telling just sounds brilliant, though.  The opening to the blurb goes: "Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked - but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors".  It sounds dark and ever so slightly twisted and as soon as I'd heard of it, it was straight onto my wishlist.  Alas, the 'no book buying' thing interrupted and I had to hunt Jane Steele down elsewhere.

The last two in the picture are comic volumes:  the first volume of Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiele and the first volume of Wytches by Scott Snyder.  Both are volumes that I really nearly bought when we were in the US but instead I plumped for volume 3 of Fables and these two were left to languish on my wishlist.  Rat Queens sounds like a lot of fun (come on - the first volume is called Sass and Sorcery!) and promises me the adventures of "a pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire".  Wytches looks like it'll frighten my socks off but I've heard really great things about the series so I want to give it a try.  At least this way, if it's too scary, I can return it and pretend it never happened!

I'd also borrowed the first volume of The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen but I'd read that and returned it before I remembered to include it in a picture!  It was quite readable and I did enjoy it but I'm just not sure that it's that coherent as a start to a series.  I think I'll carry on with the series and I'll include more in a mini review at some point but I just...I'm not sure about it really.

And that's my current library stack!  It's funny how after all this time, I still get a kick from wandering into the library and getting to leave with an armful of books and without a large dent in my bank balance.  What's not to love?  And what's hanging out on your 'to read soon' pile?  Any of these I need to really get into without any more shilly-shallying?

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Book Club Chatter #4: 'The Lie Tree' by Frances Hardinge

My relationship with my book club has been rocky recently.  A few of us made a last ditch effort to get something that sounded more likely to be a hit voted in and make a move away from the stodgy books that we were all trudging through and away from the books that people seemed to be nominating just because they'd found a musty copy on their shelves.  We all went armed with a list of books that were books that we would have picked to read on our own.  I know that reading for a book club is partly about expanding your horizons but sometimes it's nice just to read a fun book and have a bit of a gossip about it.

The shortlist for this last meeting (I never know if that's the right word - it sounds so formal!) was easily the best that we've had in ages.  The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett and And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.  I would have happily read any of them, although I'll admit that I wasn't necessarily in the mood for the Hosseini.

The Lie Tree swept to victory.

April's pick:  The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

What was comforting was that it clearly wasn't just me that was dying for something a bit pacier to read and talk about.  We went from a core of four attendees to a livelier seven and I think our average age dropped by a good 10 years!  It was nice to have more people sat around the table in the pub and everybody had plenty to say about the book.  The session (nope - still not the right word) was a world away from the dreary grumble over The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop; The Lie Tree was a complete success and it gave our chats a really enthusiastic buzz. 

We're a pretty diverse group in age and are a pretty even split when it comes to gender.  I think that left to our own devices, we'd all have pretty different reading tastes too.  All of us really liked The Lie Tree.  It's the only book that we've ever read that everybody enjoyed and that people only really had minor quibbles with.

It doesn't necessarily sound like something that will have universal appeal.  It's told from the perspective of Faith Sunderly, a teenage girl who is the daughter of a famous natural scientist.  As the novel starts, Faith, her parents, younger brother and uncle are travelling to a remote British island so that her father can participate in an archaeological dig.  When a tragedy befalls the family, Faith needs to uncover the mysteries of the Lie Tree, a plant that seems to feed on lies and respond with fruits that reveal the truth.

The only gripe that some readers had (me included) is that there's an event that's disclosed in the blurb and openly discussed in a lot of reviews that actually doesn't happen until about half way through the story.  If you haven't really read the blurb yet, I'd recommend just picking up the book and giving it a go.  I'm almost certain that you'll enjoy it more than if you know what's coming.  Knowing what's coming gives the beginning a bit of a feeling of filler or of just being elaborate set-up, which is a shame because the writing and character development is otherwise excellent and deserves better than that.

A lot of readers (not me included this time!) didn't have much experience in reading books aimed at younger readers and expressed surprise at how well written The Lie Tree was.  I wasn't surprised by the writing but I was impressed by how solid the historical elements felt.  The concerns within the religious community about the apparent discovery of fossils proving evolution and Darwin's recently published 'outlandish' theories and the plight of women at the time and what they had to resort to to have their voices heard in the world of natural science were both very well handled within the story and everybody enjoyed the mixing of historical detail with a real page-turner of a mystery.  

So to sum up:  The Lie Tree is a great read.  If you've managed not to hear much about the story yet, I can absolutely recommend it as something that has appeal for a really diverse range of readers.  It's magical realism but it doesn't feel unrealistic; it just seems to work.  Big thumbs up from my whole book club.

May's pick: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Obviously I'm excited this.  I'm both a big fantasy fan and a big Brandon Sanderson fan.  I didn't even have to suggest this; it was volunteered by someone who'd been bought another of Sanderson's books for Christmas and really enjoyed it and thought that the group could do with trying something a little different.  May will actually be my last hurrah because I'm then changing jobs and will be working 22 miles away in a different location so I'm really looking forward to hopefully getting some people into fantasy before I go!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Comic Review: Lumberjanes - Volumes 1 and 2

Ratings:  3 stars to Volume 1; 4 stars to Volume 2

At Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's camp for hard-core lady-types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams. Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together... And they're not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! 

The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here!

I loved Nimona when I read it earlier this year and I looked around pretty much straight away for anything else that Noelle Stevenson had been involved in.  This comic series is a collaboration between her, Shannon Watters and Grace Ellis and it has all of the humour and warmth that made me such a big fan of Nimona.  The dialogue is sharp and there are nifty puns abound.  The art is bright and vivid and fits with the feisty and fun characters.  It isn't quite the style of Nimona because Stevenson isn't the lead artist but it does have a similar quirky feel that I really like.

The first volume is a bit...odd and feels very much like a few opening issues that just happen to have been bound up together.  I read it on my phone on the Comixology app and when I finished, I honestly wasn't sure if I'd maybe missed something and spent a while flicking backwards and forwards to see if I really had finished.  It sets up a few of the more unusual aspects of the overarching story but it's a bit haphazard.  The second volume is much better.  The story weaves in some Greek mythology and develops some of the secondary characters, which helps the main characters feel less conspicuously one-dimensional.  More importantly, it feels much less like scene setting and more like a mini story arc.  I finished the second volume feeling much more fond of the whole series.

Reading the comics is entertaining and easy.  The pages fly by and they're funny enough to elicit some genuine smiling and the occasional brief chuckle.  Not laugh out loud stuff perhaps but clever.  Personally, though, I find that they're aimed at too young an audience for me to really get into them and want to collect them.  I would recommend them without a second thought to children of maybe 8ish to young teens.  I'd recommend them to older readers too but with a caveat that they can feel a little twee.  The peril is pretty mild and wraps up neatly and quickly in most cases.  There's an overarching story that remains a bit of a mystery but generally each volume is pretty compact and a little predictable.

Minor grumbles aside, the focus of the comics is particularly fantastic for younger female readers; the main characters are a bunch of young women away at a summer camp who have formed tight friendships and who launch into adventures without a second thought.  Each of the girls has a unique skill set that means they can take it in turns to save each other without relying on a handily placed group of boys.  Traditional "manliness" is openly made fun of at some points but without crossing over into man-hating.  I love that the girls are almost never saved from danger but instead save themselves.  I'd rather they were a little less pigeon-holed (there's a Smart One, a Brave One, an Athletic One etc.) but it works without being too annoying for the most part.  If you want to encourage independence and reliance on friends rather than a significant other, Lumberjanes really does seem like the way to go.

Overall:  I'll definitely keep reading it but I'll be keeping an eye out for it at the library or for the next volume to appear at a decent price on Comixology.  The stories are fun to read but not quite enough to live up to the £10+ per volume price tag of the later instalments.

Date finished: Volume 1: March 02 2016; Volume 2: 16 March 2016
Format: Volume 1:  Digital copy on Comixology; Volume 2: Paperback
Source: Volume 1: Bought; Volume 2: Borrowed from my local library
Genre: Comic
Pictured Edition of Volume 1 Published: by BOOM! Box in April 2015