Saturday, 31 March 2018

Short Review: 'Herding Cats' by Sarah Andersen

Sarah Andersen was one of the first artists I discovered online and then followed into print. Now that I have a black cat myself as well her art continues to be both uproariously funny as well as surprisingly relevant. I am now used to realising that I am describing one of her comics to a friend, desperately trying to explain why the picture of her in the fur coat throwing money around in a bookstore is, like, me. So of course I had to pick up Andersen's newest book as well! I need new material, my friends are getting bored! Thanks to Andrew McMeel's Publishing and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 27/03/2018
Publisher: Andrew McMeel's Publishing
Sarah's Scribbles,  Goodreads Choice Award for 2016:  Best Graphic Novels & Comics
". . . author Sarah Andersen uses hilarious (and adorable) comics to illustrate the very specific growing pains that occur on your way to becoming a mature, put-together grownup. Andersen’s spot-on illustrations also show how to navigate this newfound adulthood once you arrive, since maturity is equally as hard to maintain as it is to find … "--The Huffington Post 
Sarah valiantly struggles with waking up in the morning, being productive, and dealing with social situations. Sarah's Scribbles is the comic strip that follows her life, finding humor in living as an adulting introvert that is at times weird, awkward, and embarrassing. 
I rewrote this initial paragraph about 5 times just to stop myself from doing what I threatened above: describing funny comics and thereby stopping them from being funny. So rather I'd just like to summarise all the different things Andersen still manages to encapsulate in her art:

  • Milenial existential dread
  • The importance of love and support between friends
  • Cat shapes
  • The pleasure of being comfortable with yourself
  • That sad music is the best music
  • The horror that are periods
I literally love Sarah Andersen's art, there is not a single comic in this book I somehow couldn't relate to or didn't find funny.

Something I really enjoyed about Herding Cats were the last 30 or so pages on Andersen's creative process, called 'Making Stuff in the Modern Era: A Guide for the Young Creative and 'Part Two: Artist Survival''. In it Andersen talks about the double-edged sword that is the Internet for an artist, but also for everyone else if we're being honest. Anyone who puts their own content online has to prepare themselves for being shut down at best and straight up harrassed at worst. One of the reasons why I love the book blogging community so much is because I feel like we're all quite chill and supportive, but it's rough out there on the Internet sometimes. So how do you cope with that as a budding artist? Andersen talks about how to deal with art blocks, criticism, and the importance of taking a break and then getting right back to work.

I give this book..

5 Universes!

What can I say, I love myself some good art. Just like the previous instalments of Sarah's Scribbles, Herding Cats is full of great comics and good advice to any aspiring artists. Now all I need is a house with a coffee table so I can proudly display Herding Cats there.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Review: 'Children of Blood and Bone' by Tomi Adeyemi

I adore Fantasy books. I love sinking away into different, magical worlds full of surrprises and marvels. My specialisation at University in Medieval Literature was in large part due to just how many of my favourite novels were based on medieval texts and events. But I found myself getting just a little bored, if you can believe such a thing! While medieval Europe has a wealth of stories to tell, I was desperately looking for a Fantasy book that used something else as its inspiration, that would surprise me and teach me. Children of Blood and Bone was that book for me. Thanks to Macmillan Children's Books and Nethalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange

Pub. Date: 08/03/2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan; Macmillan Children's Books

They killed my mother. They took our magic. They tried to bury us. NOW WE RISE. 
Zélie remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. When different clans ruled - Burners igniting flames, Tiders beckoning waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoning forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. 
Under the orders of a ruthless king, anyone with powers was targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Only a few people remain with the power to use magic, and they must remain hidden. Zélie is one such person. Now she has a chance to bring back magic to her people and strike against the monarchy. 
With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must learn to harness her powers and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. Danger lurks in Orïsha, where strange creatures prowl, and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to come to terms with the strength of her magic - and her growing feelings for an enemy.
As I said above, no matter how much you love a genre, you still want it to surprise you. Part of why I get so tired of some Fantasy  novels is because they do exactly what has been done before. They see Tolkien and think 'I should also write novels set in a mythological Europe and draw my inspiration from Anglo-Saxon/Norse sources and it will be great', only they forget it isn't as easy as TOlkien made it seem. So when I saw Children of Bloog and Bone I got very excited because here was a Fantasy novel that went down a different path, that would introduce me to a different kind of world, a different kind of language and culture. In and of itself, that makes Adeyemi's novel incredibly brave and fascinating.

Inspired by West-Africa. stories and history, takes some of Fantasy and YA's most used tropes and does something new and interesting with them. We have Zélie, a girl with the power of magic in her blood, just waiting to be awakened. She is stubborn and passionate, but also deeply marked by her day to day experience. And this is why I continue to think of Children of Blood and Bone as brave. Because Adeyemi doesn't shy away from the dark side of her world, of our world. Children of Blood and Bone is full of racially-charged violence, both physical and emotional. Zélie is not just an outsider, she is looked down upon, a second class citizen, marked and shamed, constantly afraid and full of anger. She is one hell of a character to write and, especially considering this novel is meant for younger readers, Adeyemi does a brilliant job at showing to constant battle within Zélie. She is surrounded by other fascinating characters that follow the genre's conventions while not doing so at all. Amari is a princess, but also a rebel. She is a scared sister and a fierce friend. She goes through some of the most interesting development out of all the characters, in my opinion. There is also her brother Inan, who  is consistently torn between different sides. He is a truly tragic character and that is what I enjoyed about him.

Tomi Adeyemi's writing is beautifully descriptive and full of power. The way she describes different settings, whether its towns, temples or nature, is incredibly vivid and full of colour and life. I really loved the phrases of Yoruba she incorporated into her novel, as well as the fact she doesn't always translate them. If Tolkien could make up a language and not provide a translation, then Adeyemi can most definitely do the same with an existing language! Her prose is largely straightforward, which really serves to highlight the beauty of her descriptions and also works well for the plot, which moves at a nice pace. At times I felt the novel moved a little bit too quickly, or didn't linger where I expected it to, but then Adeyemi will give you everything you could want at other moments. The one thing she will also give you? One hell of a cliffhanger... I have no idea how I'll make it to the release of the second book in the Legacy of Orïsha series, which apparently isn't till 2019. Guess I'll gear up for a reread then!

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

Children of Blood and Bone is a breath of fresh air, full of beautiful imagery and hard-hitting representations of racism. The fact Adeyemi brings these two things together so seamlessly and doesn't let her plot break down under the weight of the latter is incredible. I'd recommend this to anyone interested in Fantasy and West African mythology.

Review: 'Starlings' by Jo Walton

It is no secret that I love short stories. They are so hard to write, but are beautiful to read. There is something brilliant about how authors manage to create a whole world, complete characters and stunning story in just a few pages. So when I saw Starlings I wanted to read it straight away. I had heart of Jo Walton before but actually hadn't read anything by her yet. Knowing she writes Science Fiction and then seeing the mention of legends in the below blurb, I had a feeling that I would love Starlings. And guess what, I did! Thanks to Tachyon Publications and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 23/02/2018
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
“Exquisitely written feats of imagination, each one leaving an impression long after it’s done.”Kelley Armstrong, author of Bitten and Rituals 
In her first collection, award-winning novelist Jo Walton (Among OthersThe King’s PeaceNecessity) delivers both subtle legends and reinvented realities. An ancient coin cyber-spies on lovers and thieves. The magic mirror sees all but can do nothing. A cloned savior solves a fanatically-inspired murder. Three Irish siblings thieve treasures with bad poetry and the aid of the Queen of Cats.
Starlings starts of with an eponymous poem, which immediately became one of my favourite things about this collection of work. Also at the beginning of Starlings is Walton's introduction in which she prepares the reader for what is to come. She explains how the stories that are about to come are partially experimentation, efforts on her side to try something new, to understand how short stories work, or how to write a play. For some perhaps this might lessen their enthusiasm but it actually heightened mine. I love seeing the process, the work, that authors put into creating their work. It's part of why I love Tolkien so much, because you can trace all the work he did over the years to build his work. And in the same vein Jo Walton now shows us her work. Here is a short story that was really a poem. Here is a joke that became a short story. Each story is followed by a few lines from Walton explaining how it came into being, how it started, what happened to it, how she feels about it. In a way reading Starlings made me feel very close to Walton and I admire her bravery in revealing her process to us, showing us the different puzzle pieces and how they came together.

There are too many stories and poems in Starlings to go through all of them so I'm just going to tell you about some of my favourite ones. 'A Burden Shared' is a brilliant look at a future in which you can share your physical pain with others. The story is scary, sad and sweet all at once. 'On the Wall' was a great take on the Magic Mirror in Snow White, 'Three Twilight Tales' a beautiful triple story that constantly surprised me. 'Jane Austen to Cassandra' was not at all what I expected but I loved it. 'Out of It' was another story that took a classic as a jump off point and then ran with it. I really loved those stories in Starlings. Perhaps my utter favourite in Starlings was actually a short play, 'Three Shouts on a Hill', a loving and satirical take on Irish legends, poetry, and mythology itself. I loved how it went a little meta towards the end and I also thought it was just really funny. I would pay to see this, actually... When it comes to the poems my favourite was definitely 'Hades and Persephone' because that's just the kind of person I am. It was also a great poem.

Walton is an award-winning novelist, so she really doesn't need me commenting on her writing style. But I'm going to anyway. I really enjoyed how surprising each story was. By being open in the introduction about the fact she was experimenting with these stories, I went into Starlings not knowing what to expect and being excited about that. Almost every story felt like a thought exercise, especially when you could see Walton had been inspired by something and had decided to take it one step further, to see how far she could push a certain thought or idea. I enjoyed all the different directions that Starlings went to, whether it was into space, into the mind of a computer, heaven, or the future. Also, if something perhaps didn't entirely work, then Jo Walton is the first to admit it and suggest why. For an established author to take risks like these is really interesting and as an aspiring author myself I actually found it really inspiring. I will definitely be rereading Starlings in the future, even if only for the sheer fun of some of her stories.

I give this collection...

4 Universes!

I adored Starlings and pretty much raced through the different stories! Jo Walton takes risks with her stories and imagery and it really pays off. I loved being surprised by every story, wondering what was going to happen next etc. Whether you've already read her novels or are new to Walton like me, definitely check out Starlings!

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Short Review: 'Scarlet A: The Ethics, Law & Politics of Ordinary Abortion ' by Katie Watson

Abortion is a difficult topic to tackle. Everyone has an opinion, and almost everyone also feels very strongly about those opinions. I myself have always been a big proponent of women being allowed to make the choice that is right for them, which means that the government needs to make sure that healthy and safe options are available. But even though I have read other books about abortion before, Scarlet A offered a lot of new insights and was very well written. Thanks to Oxford University Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 01/02/2018
Publisher: Oxford University Press

Although Roe v. Wade identified abortion as a constitutional right 45 years ago, it still bears stigma--a proverbial scarlet A. Millions of Americans have participated in or benefited from an abortion, but few want to reveal that they have done so. Approximately one in five pregnancies in the US ends in abortion. Why is something so common, which has been legal so long, still a source of shame and secrecy? Why is it so regularly debated by politicians, and so seldom divulged from friend to friend? This book explores the personal stigma that prevents many from sharing their abortion experiences with friends and family in private conversation, and the structural stigma that keeps it that way. 
In public discussion, both proponents and opponents of abortion's legality tend to focus on extraordinary cases. This tendency keeps the national debate polarized and contentious, and keeps our focus on the cases that occur the least. Professor Katie Watson focuses instead on the cases that happen the most, which she calls "ordinary abortion." Scarlet A gives the reflective reader a more accurate impression of what the majority of American abortion practice really looks like. It explains how our silence around private experience has distorted public opinion, and how including both ordinary abortion and abortion ethics could make our public exchanges more fruitful.
In Scarlet A, Watson wisely and respectfully navigates one of the most divisive topics in contemporary life. This book explains the law of abortion, challenges the toxic politics that make it a public football and private secret, offers tools for more productive private exchanges, and leads the way to a more robust public discussion of abortion ethics. Scarlet A combines storytelling and statistics to bring the story of ordinary abortion out of the shadows, painting a rich, rarely seen picture of how patients and doctors currently think and act, and ultimately inviting readers to tell their own stories and draw their own conclusions.
Key to Scarlet A is what Katie Watson refers to as 'ordinary abortion'. Initially I was confused as to what she was referring to, but once I got it I understood just how important it is to discuss. Watson is right when she says that most conversations around abortion are about those extraordinary cases such as rape, incest, or immediate danger to the well being of the mother and/or child. I myself have never had an abortion, but know friends who have, and not for the reasons mentioned just now. These are the ordinary abortions that Watson discusses in Scarlet A, the abortions that are done because the women aren't ready to be parents, or because they know they don't have the money for a child, or because they simply don't want children and made a mistake. These types of abortions make up the majority of abortion cases, yet they are also the ones that aren't discussed openly and that come with a lot of shame. It is incredibly important that books like Scarlet A address the experiences of these women, especially when they do it as well as Watson does.

Watson accomplishes something almost miraculous with Scarlet A, which is making the abortion debate accessible and, as far as possible, understandable. As an academic, she makes sure to either explain her jargon or to avoid it as much as possible. She shares her own interest and thoughts throughout the book, without influencing her readers, which makes Scarlet A feel more personable than many other books out there. She includes to stories of many different women, and men, about their experiences with abortion, the shame they felt, or that they didn't feel, the anger they faced, the support they received, how their thoughts have evolved since the abortion. Scarlet A also looks into the different Supreme Court cases since Roe vs. Wade that addressed abortion, discusses the terms used in the abortion debate, and much more. I walked away from Scarlet A with a lot more information than I had before, but also with a new perspective on a number of related issues.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

Katie Watson manages to make Scarlet A an incredibly accessible book, opening up a debate that is famously tricky and full of loopholes. I'd recommend that everyone interested in knowing more about abortions, about the stories of people who have gone through one, about the politics and the ethics around the debate, read Scarlet A.

Review: 'The Lonely Hearts Hotel' by Heather O'Neill

Every once in a while you read a book that surprises you at every corner. I wanted to read The Lonely Hearts Hotel from the moment I read the blurb with its promises of fairytales, a circus, love, loss and the Depression, all mixed together. I wondered how Heather O'Neill would bring it all together into one coherent novel, if that was even possible, but I can tell you now that she succeeded! Thanks to Quercus Books and Netgalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 23/02/2018
Publisher: Quercus Books
'A fairytale laced with gunpowder' Kelly Link  
The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with a difference. Set throughout the roaring twenties, it is a wicked fairytale of circus tricks and child prodigies, radical chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians and brooding clowns, set in an underworld whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss.  
It is the tale of two dreamers, abandoned in an orphanage where they were fated to meet. Here, in the face of cold, hunger and unpredictable beatings, Rose and Pierrot create a world of their own, shielding the spark of their curiosity from those whose jealousy will eventually tear them apart.  
When they meet again, each will have changed, having struggled through the Depression, through what they have done to fill the absence of the other. But their childhood vision remains - a dream to storm the world, a spectacle, an extravaganza that will lift them out of the gutter and onto a glittering stage.  
Heather O'Neill's pyrotechnical imagination and language are like no other. In this she has crafted a dazzling circus of a novel that takes us from the underbellies of war-time Montreal and Prohibition New York, to a theatre of magic where anything is possible - where an orphan girl can rule the world, and a ruined innocence can be redeemed.

Aaah Magical Realism. Nothing is more fantastical and true than Magical Realism in my mind. Real life is full of of little, magical moments that seem to come straight from a novel. And the beauty of Magical Realism is that the genre's novels celebrate those small moments, it allows the outrageous to be normal and the normal to be magical. Think of  a movie like Pan's Labyrinth, which doesn't hide the horror of this world, but also doesn't let its darkness overshadow the beauty and innocence of childhood and the world. In The Lonely Hearts Hotel O'Neill lets that beauty shine, while also writing about the Depression, depression itself, heartache, abuse, drugs and violence. Although all these things are addressed, The Lonely Hearts Hotel never feels entirely sad or hopeless. Rather O'Neill manages to celebrate the perseverance and beauty of humanity exactly by showing us its lows as well as its highs. Above all, however, the novel is an ode to the imagination and to love.

At the heart of The Lonely Hearts Hotel are Rose and Pierrot. two orphans who meet at an orphanage and brighten their fellow orphans' days with their tricks. Both seemed touched by a fantastical innocence that allows them to wholeheartedly believe in their dreams and hopes, no matter how cold and harsh the world outside themselves really is. Throughout their story there is a sense of fate and doom, as the two are constantly torn apart and almost brought back together as they try to survive in Depression-era Montreal. The novel moves effortlessly between their two narratives, showing us how both mature in the lifepaths set out for them. Whereas Pierrot moves violently from dazzling heights to harrowing lows, Rose lives with a steady, determined belief in her dream of a circus, of freedom, of love. At times O'Neill is very explicit, whether it's about her characters' sexual exploits or their descents into drug use. For some readers this might be a little off-putting, but I loved how honestly O'Neill describes her characters. She doesn't sugarcoat their actions, doesn't hide their madness or the depths to which they sink. But by showing us the lows, the highs are all the more spectacular.

Heather O'Neill's writing is brilliant. I hadn't read her previous books or heard of her, but the magic promised by The Lonely Hearts Hotel captivated me immediately. From the first page, O'Neill delivered on the promise made by the blurb. Not only were the characters she created incredibly interesting, but the way she described them was both loving and honest, which means the reader couldn't help but love them in return. One of the main things I adored about The Lonely Hearts Hotel was how O'Neill set her scenes. Whether it's the orphanage, a hotel, Montreal in winter, New York, a circus act, a casino. O'Neill describes it all in beautiful detail, to the point where I could close my eye at any point during the novel and picture exactly what was going on. The Lonely Hearts Hotel feels like a film noir, one of those classic movies that takes you away for a while, let's you escape and indulge yourself in beautiful language and outrageous characters. I can't wait to dig into Heather O'Neill's other books to get another dose of her writing!

I give this novel...
4 Universes!

The Lonely Hearts Hotel is an outrageously, dangerously beautiful book! Stunningly written by Heather O'Neill, this novel will take you to the most unexpected places and the most dizzying heights. At times the novel's themes are very dark and that may not be for everyone, yet I would encourage all readers to give The Lonely Hearts Hotel a try. You won't regret it!