Warning: I tried to catch up on my reading over the weekend so this post is loooong!
Big Mushy Happy Lump – Sarah Andersen. A mixture of new material and a selection of comic strips from the author’s popular Sarah’s Scribbles online series. Both fun and funny, Big Mushy Happy Lump makes universal experiences hilarious and takes a touching look at how anxiety issues can affect people.
The Awkward Squad – Sophie Henaff. Anne Capestan has been suspended from the Paris police for being too gun-happy. Fully expecting to be fired, she is surprised to be given command of her own squad with a remit over cold cases instead. The squad, it is explained, will be made up of all the officers the higher-ups would like to fire but who must be kept on for one reason or another. Undaunted, Anne dives head-first into bringing her squad together, determined that they will not be seen as a laughing stock. I’m not much of a crime reader, but the cover of The Awkward Squad drew me in and I’m glad it did. A true police procedural with a suitably twisty mystery at its heart, The Awkward Squad had a pleasantly light tone, even when dealing with dark things. The characters quickly go from obvious tropes (the drunk, the gambler, the bad luck charm) to well-drawn and (mostly) likeable people, with their own motivations and back stories. Of particular note is Lebreton, an officer who was denied extended leave after his husband died because, well, gay relationships aren’t as serious as straight ones, are they? Here’s hoping book two in the series gets translated into English soon.
The Black Monday Murders, Vol. 1: All Hail, God Mammon – Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker. Describing itself as a ‘crypto-noir’ series, The Black Monday Murders reveals the cabal who control the world’s financial markets through the use of black magic and being utter pricks. There are a lot of people on Goodreads who love this but I can’t understand why. Its greatest sin is that it’s boring.
The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney. Nominated for a bunch of awards, The Glorious Heresies has been on my radar pretty much since the day it came out, which can be a dangerous thing. High expectations do not always lead to an enjoyable reading experience. Luckily, The Glorious Heresies lives up to the hype. Humorous and horrific, gorgeous and graphic, the language soars, enveloping the reader in the underbelly of a Cork that is harsh and unforgiving. We open with Maureen, a victim of Ireland’s relationship with the Catholic church, who has just cracked an intruder over the head with a holy relic. He is, it seems, dead so the accidental murderer calls her son, Cork’s leading gangster, for help. From there we spiral out, following a range of characters as they move through the city, their stories overlapping, colliding and pushing apart. I actually listened to the audiobook version which was superbly narrated by Shelley Atkinson, whose accent combined beautifully with the language of the book. Have you guessed that I loved it yet? RECOMMENDED.
Dracula (BBC Radio Full-Cast Dramatisation) – Bram Stoker. Given that this adaptation was by Liz Lochhead, I had high hopes for it. They were not realised. There is very little to recommend this version of Dracula apart from Tom Hiddleston’s lovely voice (even David Suchet fell short for me). Without a narrator, events seems choppy and disconnected. Mina fell far short of the strong-willed, independent character I expect her to be, coming across as a whinging, somewhat feeble sort, while Lucy was endlessly annoying and the supporting characters were both useless and over the top. A total miss.
The House at the End of Hope Street – Menna van Praag. A promising debut featuring a magical house and the women who call it home. After crashing out of her studies at Cambridge, Alba has no idea what to do next. She comes across a house she’s never seen before but that she feels compelled to visit. A sort of half-way house across the generations, the house at the end of Hope Street allows women to stay for ninety nine nights, giving them time to sort out what’s gone wrong in their lives. When Alba moves in she meets the current residents, as well as a ghost and magical photographs of previous residents who have rather a lot of say for themselves. Overall, a quietly charming read with some easily overlooked weaknesses (Alba’s academic disgrace is not the most convincing, some of the characters are little more than a bunch of tropes bound together, and is it really possible to be so in love with someone you’ve almost never spoken to?).
The Dress Shop of Dreams – Menna van Praag. The problems hovering in the background of The House at the End of Hope Street move into the foreground here and we suffer through a series of literary cliches (I’ve been in love with you since we were children but never said! I didn’t realise I loved you until I thought I was going to lose you!) that culminate in the desperation of a periphery character and the spinelessness of our ‘hero’ combining into an uncomfortable situation where somehow everyone wins despite having been pretty despicable people. There was definitely charm in this (Etta’s dresses and the magic imbued in them was delightful, though I couldn’t help but feel it was weird to have a brand new character running the dress shop when the last book established that Greer had a talent for dressmaking) but the central love story was far from romantic. (A particular dislike of mine when it comes to romance reads is when the hero already has a girlfriend and we’re supposed to think it’s a-okay if not even better for the heroine to displace the girlfriend because the heroine and the hero are written in the stars and no one cares about the girlfriend who’s just a plot device and should really just disappear to save everyone from having to think about her ever again. Ahem.) There’s also a weird subplot about entrapment via pregnancy which is uncomfortable to begin with but which is never really concluded.
The Witches of Cambridge – Menna van Praag. Ugh. No. The charm of the first two books moves right to the background (a group of witches meet for a monthly book group floating above the Cambridge rooftops!) and all we’re given is problematic development after problematic development. There are too many characters and almost none of those characters are well enough developed. If there’s a subplot you’re enjoying, chances are it won’t be delved into in any meaningful way. What I think is supposed to be the main story (Amandine meets a mysterious man who takes away her power to see people’s secrets and is, like, totes happy about) turns into a story that is basically the first season of Jessica Jones but told in a tone that implies that the constant mind rape is not as horrifying as it actually is. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Illustration: What’s The Point? A Book of Illustrated Illustrations that Illustrate Illustration – Mouni Feddag. Charmingly illustrated but this look at illustration and how it works and brings nothing new to the table.
Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover – Paul Buckley (ed.). A romp through recent cover design for the Penguin Classics imprint. Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover includes interviews with the Penguin team and the outside illustrators they have used, which explain the process of commissioning and producing a cover. It doesn’t shy away from missteps, which is an interesting peak behind the scenes that I hadn’t expected to be included, and it features some rejected covers (some of which really shouldn’t have been reject, IMO!). Brilliant.
Abstract City – Christoph Niemann. Snapshots from the artist’s life told through a variety of mediums. To describe it in one word – playful.
Sunday Sketching – Christoph Niemann. A meditation on the realities of being a working artist, focusing on the doubts Niemann has about his own work and what he does to not only try to overcome and/or ignore them, but to keep pushing himself forward. Another wonderful volume, and one that employed an illustration style I really enjoyed.
The Rabbits – John Marsden & Shaun Tan. A hauntingly dark, intricately illustrated, look at colonialism and environmentalism. Deceptively simple writing that packs a massive punch.
We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I don’t agree with the assertion that a thousand years ago physical strength was necessary and that’s why men were in charge but I agree with everything else this inspiring manifesto has to say. PREACH!!!
Lumberjanes, Volume 1: Beware the Kitten Holy – Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis et. al. A group of girls at summer camp happen upon mysterious goings on in the woods. Still just as excellent as the first time I read it. There’s wacky humour, zany antics and friendship that’s as pure as the driven snow <3
Lumberjanes, Volume 2: Friendship to the Max – Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis et. al. It’s weird but the addition of Ancient Greek mythology detracts from a lot of stuff for me and Friendship to the Max was no exception. Still, Jen gets to awesome! Jo turns to stone! Ultimate power is bestowed upon Ripley! Everyone gets kittens!
Lumberjanes, Volume 3: A Terrible Plan – Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis et. al. The gang tell ghost stories before splitting into two groups. Whilst Mal and Molly go on a date and learn that bravery means different things to different people, Jo, April and Ripley discover that earning basic Lumberjanes badges may be harder than defeating an all-powerful supernatural being. Bummer. A fun volume, but one that felt slightly adrift as the series tried to find its way after completing its original story arc.
Lumberjanes, Volume 4: Out of Time – Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis et. al. Holy Mae Jemison! There’s a monster in the mountain! An ongoing storyline solidifies as we learn more about the history of Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types.
Lumberjanes, Volume 5: Band Together – Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis et. al. The gang try to reunite a band – of Mermaids. A Merband!! Wait, electricity works under water? Are we sure? Okay, cool.
Mermaids! Merpeople! Merwomyn! Mergirls!!
Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy – Chynna Clugston Flores et. al. Although I’m a fan of both series, this didn’t work for me. Readers are flung straight in, with no recap of who the characters are. Even as someone who’s read both titles I would have appreciated a little overview given that the cast is pretty wide. Setting Lumberjanes in the same universe as Batman also doesn’t work for me because it makes the strange goings on in Lumberjanes a lot less strange. Weird supernatural creatures, alternate dimensions and unreliable pockets of time don’t seem that out of the ordinary in a world filled with superheroes/villains. Finally, there was the story itself, a decent 80s pastiche that fell flat in the writing. There was a lot of dialogue and yet very little of it had any kind of spark. Professor MacPherson (she of the terribly written accent) did say ‘bampot’ though, so that was fun.