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Fiction

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

BUY | The Book Depository


Review

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)

Emma

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March 8, 2017
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Book Review: Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds

Gemma BoveryTITLE: Gemma Bovery

AUTHOR: Posy Simmonds

GENRE: Graphic Novel, Adult Fiction

FIRST PUBLISHED: 1999

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


Review

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)

Emma

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February 22, 2017
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Book Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

17573559TITLE: Roomies

AUTHORS: Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

GENRE: Young Adult, Fiction, Contemporary, Romance, Coming-of-Age

“Live in the present. Take care of the relationships in front of you now. Most friendships have a natural life, and when they’ve lived that out, you’ll know.”

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


review

Roomies is narrated by two girls from different states, who will soon be thrown together in the same dorm room at university.  Lauren is from a bustling family, juggling several jobs alongside her duties at home, but has mixed feelings about leaving it all behind.  EB has a strained relationship with her mother and a boyfriend she isn’t all that interested in, and is looking forward to starting a new life.  Given the opportunity to email each other before they share a dorm room, the girls grow close as life around them begins to change – mostly for the better, but at times, for the worse.

I feel the need to start off by saying that I picked this book up in the adult fiction section and I really don’t think it belonged there.  It was nice to reminisce about being a teenager again, but I do think it has far more to offer teen/YA readers – it is a coming-of-age story through and through, about finding out who you are and the importance of family and friends (new and old), whilst also addressing sensitive topics like sex and cheating.

Of the two girls, I really related to Lauren in particular, and her great, loud family.  I found her chapters a little more captivating, and thought the supporting cast of her life – Keyon, his father, her wacky siblings and parents – really made it for me.  Lauren’s romantic interest was Keyon, and their story dealt with the subject of race, as well as the complications (and joys) of going from friendship to something more.  I wasn’t blown away by their romance though, and even less so by EB’s romance with Mark.  Retrospectively, I think it would have been far more effective to have just one of the girls in a relationship so it felt a bit more special.  As it stands, I didn’t really care if either couple broke up once they started university.

Saying that, I did find both narrators could become a little synonymous at times (I’d have to pause and remind myself whose narrative I was reading), but it did mean the humour was consistent throughout the entire novel – in fact, I laughed out loud more than a couple of times.  I really enjoyed how the girls portrayed themselves in the emails – omitting some pieces of information, choosing others instead.  It was an excellent example of how online methods of communication can bring together two complete strangers and allow them to be friends, and also how the restrictions of email can lead to sometimes unforgivable miscommunication.  I found that aspect quite thought-provoking.

All in all, I recommend the book to those preparing to leave for college or university, or those just wanting to relive that anxiety-ridden summer before leaving home for the first time.  The book isn’t perfect – but it still made me laugh, and tackled a surprisingly wide array of topics.

Star Rating: ★★★★ (4/5)

Want to read more book reviews?  Check the archive here!

Emma

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November 14, 2016
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Book Review: The Trees by Ali Shaw

The Trees by Ali ShawTitle: The Trees

Author: Ali Shaw

Genre: Fiction, Adult, Fantasy, Magical Realism

Source: Net Galley (I received a copy of this for free in exchange for an honest review)

“There are no good men and there are no bad. Good and bad are just ideas, made up by priests and the power-mad. There is just earth and appetite, nothing more.”

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


Review

Those who follow me will know that I have been reading this book for a long, long time.  Even though it was an ARC when I received it, it was released way back in March, and I’ve been trying to finish it ever since to get this review out there.  But despite my leisurely reading pace, this book is well worth taking the time for.

“You can’t wait for the world to be perfect before you start living in it.”

Apart from the beautiful work of art on the cover, it really was the premise of the book that gripped me.  One night while he is sleeping, the anxious and pessimistic Adrian Thomas is awoken by a rumbling, as from the ground bursts a forest – in moments, the world has changed.  But this is not an ordinary forest – something lurks within, something ancient and magic that seems to be watching.  Terrified, Adrian quickly teams up with nature lover Hannah and her computer tech son, Seb, who are soon joined by Hiroko, a feisty Japanese student.  Each person must come to terms with this new world, where morals have shifted and only the strongest survive, as together they set out to reunite Hannah with her brother, and Adrian with his wife.

There is so much depth to this book, and the summary I’ve just given really only skims the surface.  In terms of character development, Shaw successfully carries the four characters through a number of physical and emotional challenges, forcing each one to come face-to-face with their flaws.  For example, Adrian must travel overseas to find his wife, but with their marriage on the rocks last time they spoke, will she even be glad to see him?  As a group, they make an unlikely combination, but somehow this aids their survival.  I couldn’t even tell you which character was my favourite – they all brought something completely different to the table.  Saying that, I did have a soft spot for badass Hiroko, and enjoyed the Japanese references and her fox companion.

“Look the world in the eye, Carter had always said. It keeps no secrets from you.”

This book is very thought-provoking, and there is an almost post-apocalyptic feel to some of the scenes.  Violence and panic are not uncommon, and there is conflict between what was right in the life before the forest, and what is right for survival now.  Hannah in-particular struggles with this moral question, and it is horrifying to see such a bright and optimistic character fighting with the choices she makes.  As readers, we are perhaps able to make the most objective judgement of all, but even I felt really conflicted about some of the behaviours I witnessed – it certainly opens the door for some great philosophical debates.

My only criticism really is that some minor plot elements were overworked, whereas some major plot features (like the huge magical forest) were incomplete, in my opinion.  We still don’t understand the trees, or the magic they hold, and I feel that even though the ending is rounded off nicely, it needs a sequel to tie up those loose ends.  We may never know why the trees came, but I would be interested to know what Adrian’s incredible decision at the end of the book means for him, and how that affects the rest of the world.

Star Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5/5)

Emma

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August 24, 2016
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Book Review: The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

The Sleeper and the SpindleTitle: The Sleeper and the Spindle

Author: Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell (illustrator)

Genre: Fiction, Retelling, Fantasy

“There are choices,” she thought, when she had sat long enough. “There are always choices.”

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


review

The Sleeper and the Spindle takes aspects of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and weaves them into a new, dark story in this twisted retelling.

Immediately, I was struck by how beautiful and unusual this book was – not quite a graphic novel, but not quite a typical storybook either; I think the novelty alone of reading it deserves some merit.

The illustrations, done by Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell, are stunning – in fact, I spent more of my time admiring the fine details than on the story itself.  I just love how you can see every pen stroke – everything has been put together with so much thought.

Sadly, the story itself didn’t quite live up to expectations, though it was still very good.  I felt the story jumped a bit randomly from scene to scene in the beginning, though this does smooth out as the book goes on.  However, the interweaving of the two fairy stories is very cleverly done, and I loved the way that some of the traditional story conventions were challenged, showing that Queens are just as capable as Handsome Princes at saving the day.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆½ (4.5/5)

Happy reading!

Emma

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July 28, 2016
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Book Review: The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Girl of Ink and Stars ReviewTitle: The Girl of Ink and Stars

Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Genre: Fiction, Teen, Fantasy, Adventure

“All things have a cycle…a habit of returning the way they came. Seasons, water, lives, perhaps even trees. You don’t always need a map to find your path back.”

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository | Amazon


review

When the tyrannical Governor’s young daughter goes missing, Isabella feels it is her responsibility to bring her back.  Disguising herself, she manages to join the Governor’s search party, navigating the group through the Forbidden Territories with her cartography skills passed down to her by her father.  But Lupe’s disappearance isn’t the only concern – a darkness is sweeping across the island, one that can be traced back a thousand years, to a fire demon who is finally stirring from his slumber.

Aesthetically, you couldn’t ask for more from this book.  My edition had colour maps on the inside pages, and every single page of the story itself was illustrated with ink drawings.  It really brought home the cartography element, something that I thought was original and fascinating to read about.

I also enjoyed the mythological elements of the story, and liked that for much of the book it is unclear whether or not the stories Isabella has heard about as a child have any truth to them.  I would have liked to have seen even more of the fantasy elements come to life – the Tibicena were really exciting, but the scenes with Yote seemed quite brief despite such a build up.

There were a few things lacking for me, unfortunately.  Isabella’s narration comes across as very young, and I’m not sure who would read this book and relate to her voice – I know thirteen year olds who would find her too immature.  Also, I wasn’t really convinced by her friendship with Lupe.  Considering they were best friends, I didn’t feel any real connection between them, and spent a lot of time arguing instead and being annoyed with one another.

I also felt for similar reasons like it wasn’t clear whether anything was going on between Pablo and Isabella – I sensed that she viewed him as more than just a friend.  Was there a spark between them, or just a brother-sister thing?  I was quite disappointed in the end that nothing was developed either way.  However, I appreciate that the book is not a romance – it was nice to see qualities such as friendship, family and inner strength taking priority, and in that sense it carries a good message to younger readers.

Overall though, it was a nice little read.  I’d certainly read a sequel if ever there was one, but I disagree with Goodreads defining this as part of the ‘Young Adult’ genre, despite some themes of violence, and the ending which is quite dark.  So, I wouldn’t know who exactly to recommend it to, but if you’re a fan of myths and magic, there might be something for you in this short fantasy novel.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆ (3/5)

Emma

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June 30, 2016
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Book Review: ZOO by Otsuichi

Zoo by OtsuichiTitle: ZOO

Author: Otsuichi

Genre: Fiction, Short Stories, Horror

Source: Net Galley (I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review)

“Love and death are not different things, they are the front and back of the same thing.”

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


Review

ZOO is a translated collection of short horror stories by Japanese writer Otsuichi.  Don’t be fooled by the bright and cheery front cover – many of the stories focus on death, and will shock you, or at the very least get you thinking.

Otsuichi adopts a minimalist writing style throughout the collection.  Sometimes this works better than other times, but mostly I enjoyed using my imagination to fill in the gaps – this works particularly well with horror I think.  The stories range in length from half a dozen chapters to just a couple of pages, but they all have one thing in common: they all challenged my preconceptions of the horror genre.  There is a brilliant quote in the afterword by Amelia Beamer that sums this up well:

“So here’s what I know about horror: it’s a genre without rules.”

That’s definitely what it felt like reading through ZOO.  Otsuichi was making up his own rules, with such interesting results.

Most of the stories in the collection are very well written, and most of them have a twist or two!  One of the first stories is ‘In A Falling Plane’, about two passengers haggling over the price of a euthanasia drug while their plane is being hijacked.  I particularly enjoyed the slither of humour with the rolling can that keeps tripping up those who try to tackle the gunman.  That’s an element of the collection that I feel is very unique – most stories have an injection of humour into them, which makes for an interesting contrast alongside some quite gruesome themes.

My favourite story was ‘Song Of the Sunny Spot’.  I would say it is more science fiction than horror, and is about a synthetic being who is created to care for a dying man.  As time goes on, the android develops through experience, aned begins to understand what death really means.  It was an exceptionally good and thought-provoking short story, and I didn’t see the twist coming at all!

Following on from this great story is another favourite of mine, ‘Kazari and Yoki’.  It is a sad tale of twins who are not equally loved by their mother, which ends in tragedy – though not how you would expect.  This was a gritty story of abuse in the home and though it can’t be considered horror in the traditional sense, it is still a chilling tale of inequality.

The collection is not for the faint-hearted.  Some stories made me flinch, others I simply had to tell someone about, as they were just too awful to keep to myself.  It isn’t a perfect short story collection, and there were a few stories that I skimmed through, and one that I didn’t finish.  Nevertheless, ZOO definitely stands out, and I recommend it to any horror fans out there who want to tackle something a little different.

Star Rating: ★★★★ (4/5)

Thank you so much to The Geek Undergraduate for recommending this one to me!

Emma

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June 28, 2016
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Book Review: Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Anya's GhostTitle: Anya’s Ghost

Author: Vera Brosgol

Genre: Graphic Novel, Fiction, Fantasy, Horror

“You may look normal like everyone else, but you’re not. Not on the inside.”

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


reviewFeeling lonely and unpopular at school, Anya isn’t too impressed when a ghost follows her home and wants to be her friend.  But maybe things aren’t too bad – Emily offers her boy tips and style advice, and even Anya’s grades are looking better.  When Anya swears to solve the mystery of the ghost girl’s death, she uncovers more than she bargained for.

The story was very enjoyable, though I think some parts of the plot could have been expanded.  For example, I think Elizabeth and Anya could have developed a friendship after their conversation at the party, but that all seemed to end quite abruptly.  I was surprised that the main theme of the book was more about Anya settling in at school and finding herself than of the supernatural – but I actually quite liked that.

I wasn’t as keen on the style of art compared to some other graphic novels I’ve read recently (Nimona, for example), but the drawings and colour schemes do seem to fit the mood of the story.  It also makes the scenes in the well and Emily’s ghostly presence pretty spooky.

Speaking of spooky, I actually found the ending quite scary as I read it alone at night; it certainly does its job as a horror story.  There are a fair few creepy scenes actually, and Emily’s wide empty eyes reminded me a bit of Coraline in terms of style.  Though these details were drawn well, I felt other parts, like the character Siobhan, looked sloppy in comparison.

Star Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5/5)

Emma

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June 21, 2016
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The Girl of Ink and Stars: Halfway Checkpoint

words-and-geeks-banner

It isn’t too late to join us for this month’s read-along!  Click here to catch up with the Introduction post, and read The Girl of Ink and Stars with Wandering Words, The Geek Undergraduate and special book club guest, The Teacup Library!

The Girl of Ink and Stars - Book Club

Reading Status: Chapter Ten

It’s been fifteen days; I was sure I would have been finished with this book by now.  Chapter Ten is just under halfway through, and the action is just beginning!  I’ll be interested to see how the rest of the book is paced, as the first third of the book is very much about setting the scene.

Visually, this book has been a delight to read, and the novelty of the drawings on each page has yet to wear off.  I love reading about the cartography elements too – I’ve never read anything with this sort of skill set in before.  I think it is very poetic and beautiful.

Due to the nature of life on the island, the characters are very secretive – this makes it hard to know who to trust, and even who is good and who is bad.  I have a few theories about characters and stories, but I’ll have to keep on reading to see if I am right or not.  I’d also say without a doubt that this is aimed at younger readers (early teens), but that hasn’t affected my levels of enjoyment at all.

How’s everyone else getting on with reading?

Emma

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June 15, 2016
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Book Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky

Title: All the Birds in the Sky

Author: Charlie Jane Anders

Genre: Fiction, Adult, Science Fiction, Fantasy

First Published: January 2016

“When the world turns chaotic, we must be the better part of chaos.”

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


_Summary

(From Goodreads)

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.

But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together–to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

_review

I’ll be honest upfront here – I couldn’t finish the book.  I felt so completely uninterested in the events and character’s lives that I just couldn’t bring myself to finish it.

My fear since I first heard about this book was that there were just too many genres being crammed in at once – science fiction, magical realism, romance (is that what that was?) and dystopian. I just don’t think it worked.  The premise was excellent, but the execution was poor.  I have to be fair and say I felt things picked up a bit somewhere in the middle of the book, but on the whole I do unfortunately have a big list of criticisms for this one.

One of the things that also appealed to me was that the book was advertised as being for adult readers.  Having now read it (as an adult) I feel it was written in a style more appropriate for young teens.  Perhaps themes of violence and sexual references have resulted in it being labeled as ‘adult’, but I am not convinced it should be considered anything more than ‘teen’ for its writing style, even if it does go off at technical tangents sometimes:

Not for the first time, Laurence thought this was one of the annoyingly incommunicative features in the English language.  Much like the inability to distinguish between “x-or” and “and/or,” the lack of delineation between “x-we” and “in-we” was a conspiracy of obfuscation, designed to create awkwardness and exacerbate peer pressure—because people tried to include you in their “we” without your consent, or you thought you were included and then the rug got pulled out from under you.

I’ve never seen so many unlikeable characters in a book before!  Some were so unbelievably horrid that I couldn’t help but imagine Theodolphus (the assassin) resembling some kind of cartoon villain not unlike Gru from Despicable Me.

“I don’t deserve this ice cream,” he kept repeating with each bite until he started crying. “I don’t deserve this ice cream.” He sobbed.

As kids, the protagonists suffer from awful relationships with their completely irrational parents, who put no effort into actually having any level of communication with their children about why they might be misbehaving.  Poor Patricia also has to tolerate a truly evil sister tormenting her and her beloved animals.  Laurence and Patricia are bullied at school too, and picked on by teachers.

I can’t deny there are a few merits, though not many. There are a few good quotes now and again and some thought-provoking and occasionally funny conversations between Patricia and Laurence.  I’d love to say I’ll read it to the end, but I know I’ll never get those hours of my life back, and there’s still 50% to go.

I can safely say that I have never read anything like this book before, if that can be considered a merit; it certainly was unique. If you’re looking for something utterly bizarre, then this mix-match of genres is for you. I’m just sorry for those doing book club this month that I even picked this – I hope you all had better luck with it than I did.  Judging by the Goodreads reviews, people are either loving it or hating it. Unfortunately, I know where I stand.

Star Rating: ★ (1)

Emma

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May 31, 2016
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