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Book Reviews

5 Reasons Snotgirl Volume 1 Disappointed


Fashion blogger Lottie doesn’t really lead the perfect life her photos portray – in reality her boyfriend has dumped her, she hates her friends and she is struggling with her allergies.  The premise of Snotgirl is good, right?  I love Bryan O’Malley, but here is five reasons that Snotgirl is just (s)not as good as his other works:

1.) TOO MUCH HATE.  Where’s all the love?  Female relationships are portrayed really poorly, and I couldn’t relate to the friendship dynamics at all.  Lottie had annoying nicknames for her friends that really weren’t necessary, and she says early on they are all “horrible people”…

2.) LOST THE PLOT.  What is going on and why?  The story itself felt very jumbled, and it didn’t seem to know what genre it wanted to be.  Rather than being a successful contemporary mystery, it felt too confused.  There was something interesting in that Lottie’s allergy medication seemed to be having curious side effects, but it didn’t form enough of the plot to really make me want to read on and find out more.  Also… what on earth with John the detective’s creepy obsession with Lottie?  I don’t know, the whole thing is wrong to me.

3.) UNLIKABLE PROTAGONIST.  I didn’t even love to hate her, I just didn’t like her.

4.) ALLERGIES AREN’T SOMETHING TO BE ASHAMED OF.  Allergies suck, but it is important to find ways of living with them.  Lottie is so ashamed of her allergies that she keeps them a secret from those around her.  I can only hope in time part of her character development will be to open up about them.

5.) WEAK DIALOGUE.  Few conversations really drive the plot forward, and I got bored with the subject matter quite quickly.

Social media stars are quite influential these days, and I was hoping this behind-the-scenes look at a fashion blogger’s life would be fascinating.  I did enjoy the outfits and characters, and I did find the pressure on Lottie to be perfect really interesting, but as a whole the story just wasn’t successfully pulled off.  I would be intrigued to learn if things pick up in later volumes, but I’m not convinced I’d be willing to spend money to find out.


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June 17, 2017

Five Reasons to Read Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley


Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley

I recently finished this fantastic graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley, which is probably the longest graphic novel I’ve ever read too!  Though some elements were a little repetitive, the concept as a whole really inspired me, and I wanted to share five reasons why you simply must read this book:

  1. IT’S FANTASY!  Our protagonist, Katie, begins to consume magical mushrooms that allow her to fix mistakes of the past.  Set on creating a perfect world, Katie doesn’t notice that there is an unsettled shadow growing restless in the basement… I didn’t realise when I picked up the book that it would be of the fantasy genre (the cover is somewhat ambiguous).  House spirits and dark forces lurking?  I found it captivating!
  2. THE ILLUSTRATIONS ARE ADORABLE.  Although I haven’t read Scott Pilgrim (only seen the film, which is amazing), Seconds has the same flavour of weird and wonderful about it.  Every page is full of detail and colour, and I love the manga-esque style, particularly in Katie’s facial expressions.  Even the choice of layout and typeface really appealed to me.Seconds
  3. THE PROTAGONIST IS A STRONG, INDEPENDENT WOMAN.  Katie runs her own business and knows how to stand up for herself, and her sass is the source of much humour.  It’s nice to read stories where the struggling female doesn’t need rescuing by a man!
  4. THE WRITING IS HILARIOUS.  Bryan Lee O’Malley seems to be some kind of comedy genius.  His characters are so funny.  There’s plenty of great little details, like Katie’s occasional sassy comments to the narrator of the story.
  5. IT MAKES YOU THINK.  Despite her strong nature, Katie becomes fixated on mending her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, leaving her own future and friendships on the verge of collapse.  It brings up the question of how far people are willing to go for love – is a relationship worth losing everything for?  How far would you go?

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Happy reading!


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April 21, 2017

Book Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

25573977TITLE: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

AUTHOR: Katarina Bivald

GENRE: Adult, Fiction, Chick Lit

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Swedish tourist in Iowa must be in want of a man.

INFO | Goodreads

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Travelling to a small American town in Iowa to meet her pen pal, Swedish bookworm Sara is surprised to learn that Amy has recently passed away.  To honour Amy’s friendship with this shy tourist, the people of Broken Wheel decide to take Sara under their wing, hoping to keep her around for as long as possible – even if that means trying to set her up with one of the locals.  Set on repaying the town, Sara opens up a bookshop, determined to get the town reading…

I love that this was a book about books – that element of it was really fun.  There were references to dozens of books and authors I love, and Sara’s passion and enthusiasm for reading was so infectious.  Other than that, Sara’s personality fell a little flat for me.  I would also have liked to have heard more about Sara’s backstory too.  It felt like there was the potential to make her really interesting – for example, she is from Sweden (as is the author) and it might have been fun to learn a little of her culture or to have seen even a few words of Swedish.

Though Sara was a pretty plain protagonist, this did allow for the book to revolve around the town rather than one person.  I thought the locals of Broken Wheel had tons of personality – I loved George, a recovering alcoholic with a heart of gold, and Grace, the tough-as-nails bar owner, and I can understand why Sara didn’t want to leave.

The plot and ending were painfully obvious, but that does seem to be the case with most chick lits I’ve read – it is a safe read in that respect, and that isn’t necessarily a criticism.  My biggest problem however was the chemistry between Sara and Tom.  I just didn’t feel it at all.  Even scenes of intimacy seemed kind of awkward… I don’t know, I’ve read reviews where people really enjoyed their chemistry, but they seemed like a real unnatural, cringeworthy match to me.  Of course I still rooted for them, because I’m not a complete spoilsport!  Even so, in terms of relationships, I’d say I found the complications of Justin falling for an older woman – who, I won’t say – far more engaging than the core relationship of this novel.

TL;DR: The main romance is questionable, but the people of Broken Wheel more than make up for it.  Sara will make you remember why you fell in love with reading.

Star Rating: ★★★¾ (3.75/5)


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March 23, 2017

Book Review: The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil

TITLE: The Gigantic Beard That Was EvilThe Gigantic Beard that was Evil

AUTHOR: Stephen Collins

GENRE: Fiction, Graphic Novel

Beneath the skin of everything is something nobody can know.  The job of the skin is to keep it all in and never let anything show.

INFO | Goodreads

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One day, on the island of Here, an enormous, unruly beard explodes from Dave’s face.  It disrupts society, throwing life into chaos as the beard begins to threaten the order of things.  It is too reminiscent of There, the dark unknown land beyond the edge of Here.  The people work together to contain the beard, but it just continues to grow and grow…

I have (almost) nothing but praise for this book.  What I expected to be just a funny story about facial hair ended up being something so much more.  Of course, it was still funny – a gigantic beard is a funny thing; the entire concept was hilariously far-fetched, but it was the message that really moved me.

In a safe, organised society, the beard represents the uncontrollable, the unknown: change.  And what do we do with these things that disrupt our sense of “normal” – we fear them, try to remove them.  Even if that means hurting people.

The question of where the beard came from is still unclear, but I don’t think that matters.  Change is inevitable.  It made me consider some of the current situations happening in the world today – perhaps with a little more flexibility, a little more tolerance, there would be less “Here” and “There”, less “Us” and “Them”.

For a book about a beard, it certainly was a thought-provoking read.  Was the beard really evil?  Personally, I don’t think so.  It just needed the space to grow.

Star Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)


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March 8, 2017

Book Review: Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds

Gemma BoveryTITLE: Gemma Bovery

AUTHOR: Posy Simmonds

GENRE: Graphic Novel, Adult Fiction


INFO | Goodreads

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Set in France, Gemma Bovery is told from the perspective of a French baker, and follows his obsession with a young English woman who moves into the area with her husband.  A silent observer, Joubert lives voyeuristically by watching an affair unfold between Gemma and a local man, but is driven to hysteria as he believes her fate will be the same as the protagonist of Madame Bovary – ending in tragedy.

I really have mixed feelings about this book.  I was close to giving up on it, but I kept going because I was desperate to know how things ended – namely, whether Joubert’s Madame Bovary prophecy would come true.

On the plus side, I have never read a graphic novel like this one.  There is so much text that it read more like an illustrated book than a graphic novel, and I thought that was really exciting.  Although told by Joubert, the story also includes long quotes from Gemma’s private journals, and I think it was necessary to have these parts as text opposed to pictures (as long-winded as they sometimes were), so they can be read in their original form, without being skewed by Joubert’s perspective.

I also liked experiencing Normandy through Gemma’s eyes – it actually gave me itchy feet and made me want to visit (even though Joubert was so negative about English visitors).  There was a lot of untranslated bits of French conversation which did make everything really authentic but was also a bit of a pain as I didn’t know what anyone was saying…

On the whole though, this book just didn’t work for me.  I think ultimately I was left feeling disappointed, particularly by the ending, which was actually completely underwhelming.

I think one of the biggest problems was that I didn’t feel like I engaged with any of the characters.  Gemma’s life was so mundane for so much of the story that I just didn’t actually care for her future or her marriage at all, and the only exciting part really was the affair itself.  I didn’t care for her boring husband, or the annoying English family who holidayed nearby.  But in a way, that’s exactly the point – Joubert was blinded by his obsession, and found her fascinating regardless.

To an extent, I wonder if the reader is meant to feel disengaged on purpose.  One positive of this is how it gave me the opportunity to be objective about the unfolding events.  As an outsider, I could sense Joubert getting increasingly unhinged as the story went on.  I quickly sensed that he wasn’t actually a reliable narrator through Gemma’s diary entries, which in the end barely mentioned Joubert at all (a great example of perspective).

Star Rating: ★★ (2/5)


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February 22, 2017

Book Review: Fish + Chocolate by Kate Brown

Fish + Chocolate by Kate BrownTitle: Fish + Chocolate

Author: Kate Brown

Genre: Graphic Novel, Fiction, Short Stories

First Published: 2011

INFO | Goodreads

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Fish + Chocolate is a collection of three short stories about mothers and their experiences of loss.  I picked it up because I found the imagery on the cover so striking, and the blurb promised me ‘disturbing themes’ and something ‘unsettlingly strange’.  I tend to enjoy the surprise of often controversial works, so I thought I would give it a read.

In the first story, ‘The Piper Man’, a Pied-Piper-esque figure leads a woman’s child astray.  This was probably the strongest of the three stories, and seemed to have more of a complete storyline than the others.  I enjoyed the almost supernatural little surprise at the end.

The second story, ‘The Cherry Tree’ is easily the most beautifully illustrated, with the whole story told in shades of pink and green.  It was the story that had the biggest impact on me, though I felt like there was something missing.  The tragedy at the end of this story was almost unnecessarily morbid, and I don’t feel like I knew the characters and circumstances well enough to really be able to understand what happened and why.  If tragic events must happen in a story, I like them to have a purpose, and I think there was a message in this story that I missed.

Lastly, a woman struggling with the loss of her baby tries to work through her emotions in ‘Matryoshka’ (which is another word for Russian dolls, and is an aptly unsettling name for such a story as this).  The events were really disjointed, and rather than this reflecting the mother’s mental state, it just left me feeling a bit lost as to what was actually happening.  There are some very startling and graphic images in this story which made me feel quite uncomfortable – certainly not for the faint-hearted.

However, on the whole the illustrations do a lot to redeem this book.  Kate Brown is a very talented artist, and I find her style really appealing.  It’s just a shame that the subject content was so miserable – I felt pretty low after reading it, and I didn’t even take away any great morals or messages.  It was grim without purpose, which for me made it quite a negative reading experience in the end.

I feel harsh giving this book such a low score, especially as the stories have stayed with me, but overall it wasn’t an enjoyable experience – but maybe that’s the point… after all, there isn’t anything enjoyable about loss and human suffering.

Star Rating: ★★ (2/5)

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January 26, 2017

Book Review: Stan and Nan by Sarah Lippett

26210515Title: Stan and Nan

Author: Sarah Lippett

Genre: Graphic Novel, Non-Fiction, Biography

INFO | Goodreads

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Stan and Nan is a graphic novel sharing the story of Sarah Lippett’s grandparents: her Nan, who she was very close to, and her Grandad, who she never met.  It is a story about love and the strength of family, inspired by the letters Sarah’s grandmother wrote to her about her late husband.

This book is a real credit to the graphic novel genre.  Anyone – whether they knew their grandparents or not – will have heard stories about them.  Stories are so important, and are a great part of keeping someone’s memory alive.  This is what Stan and Nan is all about, especially as much of the story is told from the perspective of Sarah Lippett’s relatives.  Putting their story into a book must have been a really difficult experience for Sarah, as the love she had for her Gran is very apparent in their conversations, and really very moving.Stan and Nan

The subject matter made it quite a tough book to read at times.  I have a very good relationship with my Gran, and much of Sarah’s interactions with her Gran were very familiar.  A particularly funny and heart-warming moment for me was when her Gran offered her Custard Creams even though she was a vegan; this happened again later and it was just as funny!

The illustrations are quite rough at times, but that’s really just Lippett’s style.  As this book is so personal to the author, I feel the drawings just add a layer of authenticity and they don’t feel lazy at all.  Anyway, there are times when Lippett shows off her abilities and attention-to-detail with some full-page drawings, and I personally feel the whole book fits together really nicely.

Star Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)


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January 22, 2017

Book Review: My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy!

My Japanese Husband Thinks I'm Crazy!Title: My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy!

Author: Grace Buchele Mineta

Genre: Non-Fiction, Comics, Autobiographical (to a degree)

Don’t let fear prevent you from doing something you love.

INFO | Goodreads

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Grace Mineta became popular with her blog and YouTube videos documenting life in Tokyo as a Texan married to a Japanese man.  My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy! is a collection of some of her earliest comics about her experiences in Japan, and the struggles and joys of intercultural marriage.

As a big fan of Texan in Tokyo, it seemed quite obvious that I would at some point support Grace and buy her book, firstly because I think she produces excellent content online but mostly because I love comic books!  The comic had quite an amateur feel to it, but I think that was half its charm, and I think rather than a criticism that became one of its greatest strengths – there was a real sense of authenticity with the stories told.  Also, I think it shows the journey of Grace’s artistic talent; looking at more recent comics on her website, you can see how she has progressed creatively from those first doodles.

Saying that, I was a little underwhelmed by a few of the comic strips but many of them were very informative, or just fun; ‘Introducing the ‘Earthquake Game”‘ made me chuckle, because that’s exactly the sort of thing I would do.  Every so many comics there would be an article or list, and these were some of the most engaging parts of the book.  Titles included “7 Questions Interracial Couples are Tired of Hearing” and it was surprising and sad to see the prejudice that Grace and Ryosuke have been subjected to.  The section on onsens was also really fascinating, and I would visit an onsen during my next visit to Japan on Grace’s recommendation alone.

I’ll be buying her two other comic collections in the next few months, mostly because I am interested in learning more about the Japanese culture, and I enjoy Grace’s perspective of her experiences in Tokyo.  As a result, it does pain me to say that I think the comic book could have been better, though I wonder if my criticisms are more just “teething problems” that are smoothed out by the second and third books.  After all, as Grace says in her introduction, she never intended these early drawings to be published.

Before buying the comic, I definitely recommend checking out the Texan in Tokyo blog and YouTube – it really grounds the comics in reality when you remember they are a real-life married couple, and their ‘Day in My Life’ videos are very interesting.  Here’s one of my favourites: A Day in My Life (#18): Hunting for crafts at the 100yen shop.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆½ (3.5/5)

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You can check out my own adventures in Tokyo here.

Happy reading!


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January 9, 2017

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

12600138Title: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

“No one in the world gets what they want and that is beautiful.”

INFO | Goodreads

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It’s the year 2044 and the world now lives in a virtual simulation known as the OASIS – people work there, attend virtual schools and socialise within the sim.  When the creator, James Halliday, announces that there is an easter egg hidden in the game and the player who finds it will win his entire fortune, the OASIS erupts with activity as every player around the world scrambles to find it.  But when four years pass, with no sign of the egg, only the dedicated egg hunters (known as gunters) and a large corporation seeking control of the OASIS are left still searching.  That is, until gunter Wade Watts discovers the first part of the puzzle.

Usually I review a book almost immediately after reading, but with Ready Player One it was different.  It took me several days to really digest what I’d read, until I was ready to put pen to paper.  I think in part this is due to Ready Player One being very much a story within a story.  It did take a great deal of focus to imagine the ever-changing landscapes of the OASIS.  I sure had to do my homework with this one – a few times I had to Google the 80s film and video game references so that I could better picture the scene unfolding in my mind.  My nerd trivia knowledge was definitely challenged!  It was an exceedingly ambitious novel, and I think Cline has done a tremendous job.

I was really kept on my toes for the entirety of the book; it never seemed to be clear cut who would win Halliday’s egg.  With the scoreboards constantly evolving, it certainly wasn’t a given that Wade would find the egg first.  But that wasn’t a problem.  The Sixers were so unlikable – Sorrento was in fact the perfect video game or television villain, really – that I quickly came to root for all of the gunters.  I didn’t care who won as long as it wasn’t IOI.

As a narrator, Wade was great fun, and I often found myself laughing at his sharp wit.  On the other hand though, he did seem far too immature for his age at times – perhaps a lifetime in a virtual sim does that to a person.  This also extended to emotional maturity too.  I don’t know if it was the style of writing, or a character flaw of Wade, but I felt like I never really saw much emotional vulnerability from him.  When he was scared or hurting, I felt it was brushed over so quickly that I never got to see him deal with those feelings and grow as a character.  Again, maybe the nature of the OASIS is responsible for this behaviour.  Anyway, I completely forgive him this character flaw, as his intelligence and sense of humour made the book what it is, and gave him a distinctive personality among the other gunters.

The funny thing is that in a sense, by having the plot circulate around pop culture references, Cline is doing exactly what Halliday did in the book – creating a world where the reader has no choice but to wade through these interests to locate the egg.  I really enjoyed that journey too – many references I understood, and I’ve never read a piece of fiction so grounded in the real world before.  It just reinforced how uncanny the whole thing was.  In my younger years I used to use IMVU, a virual instant messaging website, and especially with increasingly high quality video gaming graphics and advancements in technology, it isn’t too difficult to picture the world Cline has invented.  I think if this book doesn’t make you want to turn off your computer/phone and go outside then you’ve missed a really fundamental part of the story.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ (5/5)

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December 15, 2016

Book Review: Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld

Everything is TeethTITLE: Everything is Teeth

AUTHOR: Evie Wyld, illustrated by Joe Sumner

GENRE: Graphic Novel, Non-Fiction, Memoir

I always hope the thing beneath the water turns out to be a man eater.  And it usually does.

INFO | Goodreads

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This unique graphic novel tells of author Evie Wyld’s childhood and her increasing obsession with sharks following time spent in Australia.  Sharks plague her thoughts and she is haunted by her fear and intrigue of them.

This book was a really personal and fascinating look at obsession.  In some ways it was reminiscent of Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green, and I felt moved by the fear and anxiety in the same way – this is an honest memoir and Wyld has been open about how sharks really affected her childhood.  The depiction of how the sharks seemed to literally stalk her was very well done, and I felt it was a greatly accurate portrayal of what it feels like to have a mind buzzing with obsessive thoughts.

There wasn’t a plot, per say, more just a collection of moments and memories that were surprisingly cohesive when put together.  This is thanks in part to the style of illustration and the choice of a limited colour palette, which made the scenes of blood and violence all the more unnerving.  This isn’t a book for the faint-hearted – some of the images were very unsettling, but I thought it really showed how terrified Evie must have been.

If I think the worst, then the worst is unlikely to happen.

My one criticism is that I felt that Evie was very detached from the other characters in the book.  In some ways they could not have been there at all and I wouldn’t have noticed.  I couldn’t decide whether this was done on purpose, to emphasise how focused she was on the sharks (at the expense of relationships), or if it was a part of the story that was just neglected.  There was hope at times, like when Evie’s brother was getting beaten up and found comfort in her shark stories – but his hardships at school were never followed up, and I would have liked to have known more.

Star Rating: ★★★★ (4/5)


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November 16, 2016