book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from April

Another month is over, so here’s the latest selection of mini reviews – these are for books that I enjoyed in the previous month, but which I haven’t already talked about. Two of these are new releases that I got from NetGalley (they have the asterisks) the other is one I bought for myself after seeing other people recommend it. If you want a physical copy of these – and Mooncakes is only available as a physical copy – then please get in touch with your local independent bookseller – or in the case of Mooncakes your local comic book store.

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

paperback copy of Mooncakes

A graphic novel to start – Mooncakes is a YA fantasy story about a magic and witches and first love. Set in New England, when Nova Huang follows reports of a white wolf one night she discovers her childhood crush Tam Lang battling a horse demon. With the help of her grannies and the spellbooks from their bookshop, the two are soon trying to defeat the dark forces that threaten their town – but also discovering that they still have feelings for each other. I loved the artwork for this as well as the story – it really worked for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan in me. I see on Goodreads it’s getting a “people who read this also read…” to Pumpkinheads, but I think it would also work for fans of Lumberjanes who are a little older – either grownups like me or teens who have aged out of middle-grade. As I said at the top, this is only available as a paperback – so no ebook links here I’m afraid.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healy*

Cover of The Animals at Lockwood Manor

Need some creepy gothic fiction set in World War 2? Well maybe try this: it’s summer 1939 and Hetty Cartwright has been entrusted with evacuating the natural history museum’s collection of mammals to keep them safe from the looming war. But when she gets to Lockwood Manor where she will stay to look after them, she discovers a very strange household indeed.  Lord Lockwood is short-tempered and unpredictable, his daughter is friendly towards Hetty but clearly troubled and the servants really don’t like the large collection of taxidermy that they’re now having to help look after. And then things start moving, and then going missing altogether. But for all the talk of ghosts and haunting, that sort of thing isn’t real is it? This has a lot of themes in it that I like – women trying to make their way in a world built for men, big country houses, the time period (and a gorgeous cover) – but the pace was a bit slow for me. Other people whose opinions I respect haven’t had that problem though so I’m still happy recommending it. This came out in March in hardback and ebook (Kindle/Kobo) and audiobook.

Unflappable by Suzie Gilbert*

Cover of Unflappable

Are you one of the many people who’ve been watching Tiger King in lockdown? I have and that’s exactly why I requested this from NetGalley. Luna Burke is on the run. Her estranged husband has stolen a bald eagle from a wildlife sanctuary and she’s determined to steal it back from his private zoo and get it to safety in Canada where it can be reunited with its mate. This is classed on Goodreads under chick lit and romantic comedy but I actually think it’s trying to be an adventure caper – there’s certainly not a lot of romance in it. But whatever it is a story featuring craziness from wildlife rescuers is perfectly timed at the moment. I didn’t think it was entirely successful – better in the idea than the excecution – but there are enough people on Goodreads who’ve loved it that I think it might work better for other people.  One thing is for sure though: the plot seemed a lot less far-fetched than it would have done before I had watched the exploits of Joe Exotic and Carol Baskin! This one is a paperback original – but looks like it’s probably a special order from the states, so it’s probably easier to get the ebook – in Kindle or Kobo.

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews from March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from April: Dead Famous, A Cowboy to Remember, Murder to Music and Death of a Demented Spiv, the blog tour post for Conjure Women, the Series I Love post for the Cazalets, my escapist coronavirus fiction suggestions and my #Recommendsday post for the Happy Valley Set.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, graphic novels, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Pumpkinheads

A busy week in reading last week with lots on the list. You’ll be hearing more about some of them (yes I know, I keep saying that but look – you had a Recommendsday post last week and that was worth it right?) but as it’s Halloween this week this seemed like the obvious choice.

UK Edition of Pumpkinheads

Written by Rainbow Rowell and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks, Pumpkinheads tells the story of one night in the life of Deja and Josiah.  They are seasonal friends.- they’ve worked at the same stall at the same pumpkin patch together, every autumn, all through high school – but never see each other between Halloween and next September 1. But their last year. And more specifically their last night. Josiah wants to be melancholy, but Deja wants him to seize the moment and let go of his quest to be the employee of the month and enjoy their final shift together. To that end she’s traded their shifts at the succotash stall for something closer to where Josiah’s long-term crush works, in the hope that she can persuade him to finally ask her out. But what actually happens ends up being a mad chase around the patch to finally see all the sights and taste all the snacks.

I’m not a horror reader, so Halloween themed reading is always a challenge for me.  But if you’re like me and need some low stakes, low peril Halloween reading, this may be exactly what is required. This is funny and sweet and not at all scary, but it is very, very Halloween-y. We don’t really have pumpkin patches over here – or if we do it’s a very recent arrival – so it’s not something that I’m familiar with, but that didn’t matter because the art did all the work for you.  I loved the visual style of this – the colour palette is gorgeously autumnal and the characters are all really expressive.  There’s so much detail here too – I loved the runaway goat and the troublesome teens.  Read this curled up on your sofa with a seasonal beverage whilst hiding from trick or treaters.

My copy of Pumpkinheads came from my local comic store – your local should be able to get hold of it too. Otherwise it’s available from all the usual sources.  I’ve also written about some of Rainbow Rowell’s books before – here are my reviews of Carry On and Fangirl. I also finished Wayward Son – which is the sequel to Carry On – last week.  It’s really good, but you need to have read Carry On to get the most out of it.  And there’s a third book coming too.  Exciting times.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, graphic novels

Book of the Week: Fence

A long list of books read in yesterday’s Week in Books post.  You’ll have noticed that I’m still on a big old Susan Mallery reading jag, but in the interests of not being repetitive, this week’s BotW features what I fear may become my next graphic novel obsession: Fence.

Cover of Fence Vol 1Fence is the story of Nicholas Cox who is determined to make it in the world of fencing.  He’s managed to win a fencing scholarship into a top boarding school and needs to get a spot on the school team to stay.  But in his way is enigmatic Seiji Katayama – who beat him at the last big competition and who also happens to be his new roommate.  Why is he putting himself through this?  Well he’s the illegitimate son of a fencing great and he wants the chance to be a fencing legend like the dad that he never knew.  And if it means beating his half-brother – his father’s acknowledged son and protege – on the way, then so be it.

This exists at the convergence of the Venn diagram of some of my top catnip: boarding schools, underdogs, Olympic sports and – dare I hope – enemies to lovers.  It ticked so many of my boxes, you would not believe.   Or may be you would if you’ve been here a while!  Aside from Nicholas and Seiji, the fencers at Kings Row are a really interesting gang of people and – like Boom! box stablemate Lumberjanes – they are a super diverse bunch but that’s not made into a Thing, it’s just how life is.  Because of course that is how real life is.  I love the art from Johanna the Mad – and the simple but striking colour pallette that’s used.  I know very little about fencing – except that it’s in a fair few historical romances and that these days it’s *very* fast-moving when it pops up on TV at the Olympics – but this totally hooked me in and had just enough detail about the ins and outs of the sport to keep you interested without overloading you – which is a skill in itself, especially in a graphic novel.

I saw an issue of this while I was in the US in the autumn, but waited and bought the trade version from my local comic book shop.  I’ve now got Volume two on order, but volume three isn’t out until May and I can’t just glom on it now.  Hey ho, I can’t have it all my own way.  You should be able to get hold of Fence Vol 1 from any good comic retailer – and please do support your local comic store – but if you want a taste, the first issue (one fourth of this trade) is £1.79 on Kindle at time of writing.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, graphic novels

Book of the Week: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

Chaos continues. I mean honestly. I have words for my own incompetence in setting my Week in Books as ready to publish without adding my Sunday reading. I’m surprised I’m allowed out alone. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed your Bank Holiday Monday if you had one. Anyway, on to another (quite brief) BotW.

The digital cover of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 1
The world needs more Squirrel power…

Doreen Green is off to college. Her first task is to keep her secret identity as Squirrel Girl under wraps.  But that’s easier said than done when you have a tail, your squirrel sidekick has followed you to campus and the world is under threat from all manner of bad guys.

I loved Doreen. She’s feisty, smart and a little bit nutty and she’s going to save the world. I don’t read a lot of super hero comics, but I picked this up as my Super Hero Comic with a Female Lead for the Read Harder Challenge.  I’d heard a lot about it and it totally lived up to the hype. Doreen is the hero (or heroine) we need: she’s Unbeatable because she’s got a solution to everything and it’s often not to beat her enemy to a bloody pulp, but something smart and clever.  Considering that I’d had a stressful week, this really hit the spot for me.

I love stories with strong, smart women at their centre and this ticks all those boxes. My only problem with this – as it is with all graphic novels – is that I read them too fast, and they’re expensive.  But they’re also art, and labour intensive and so I give them a bit of a pass, especially as I really enjoy going into my local comic book store. I think I’ll be passing my copy on to my older niece (she’s 9) because I think she’d love this too.

You can get Unbeatable Squirrel Girl from all the usual places that sell comics, and at time of writing, the Kindle version for a very bargainous £3. I’m not a reader of comics on tablet, but Volume 2 was also super competitively priced, so I’ve got bought it and I’m going to give it a go. I’ll keep you posted. But visit a comic book store.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Fantasy, graphic novels

Book of the Week: Bitch Planet

A relatively short Book of the Week post this week because it’s been a bit of a strange one really to be honest.  So it seemed fairly logical to pick Bitch Planet Volume 1 because it was kick ass and a bit subversive and fitted my mood!

Last week’s comic bookshop haul – complete with Bitch Planet nestled in the middle!

So, Bitch Planet is a graphic novel set in the near future. And as always (or almost always) this is a dystopian near future.  Bitch Planet is the nickname for the penal colony where women who don’t do as they’re told are sent.  In volume 1 we meet a gang of new arrivals and follow them as they try to form alliances and work out a way to survive. It’s a dark and twisty take on sci fi and women in prison and it’s fabulous.

It’s not been that long since I picked Lumberjanes 4 as my BotW and this is a different sort of graphic novel, but it’s definitely as good. I had heard so much about this on the bookish internet and finally remembered to look and see if my comic book store had a copy last week.  It did and I’m so glad I picked it up – I just wish I’d bought Volume 2 at the same time. I can totally understand why so many people love this – the tales of Non Compliant tattoos make sense to me now. But this isn’t just a graphic novel for women – there’s plenty here for comic fans and sci fi movie fans too – the assistant behind the till at the cash register was telling me how much he likes the series too.

You should be able to pick up Bitch Planet from any good comic book store and I would encourage you to do that – read my Lumberjanes post for further and better particulars but basically it boils down to help the little guys who are experts.

Happy Reading!

PS I said this would be short but sweet didn’t I!

Book of the Week, graphic novels

Book of the Week: Lumberjanes Volume 4

It was a tough decision for this week’s BotW – I didn’t read as much as I was hoping to, and some of what I did read was disappointing.  The two best things I read were the two graphic novels, and even though it’s only a few months since I wrote about Lumberjanes, I’m going to geek out over the girls again.

Lumberjanes volume four
Volume Four is Called Out of Time and we join the girls as they learn (or try to learn) survival skills.  But soon they’re hit by a blizzard and Jen gets separated from them.  The girls launch a search for her – fearing she’s freezing to death, but actually she’s met a mysterious woman who seems to have some relationship to Rosie.

This volume has loads of backstory and drops some serious hints about the purpose of the Lumberjanes and leaves you wanting to know more.  My big problem with volume three was that some of the artists had changed, but in this one we’re back to my favourites from the earlier volumes.  This has always been such a good example of female friendships – and now we have the boys camp popping up again it deals really well with that too.  At times it felt like there was possibly a little too much going on, because they’re trying to get set up, backstory and a fight with a monster in to one trade paperback, but I’d much rather have too much plot than too little.

You should be able to buy Lumberjanes from any good comic shop (start at the beginning with Volume one though for maximum impact), and please do consider finding a comic shop to support.  Amazon aren’t even offering any discount on the cover price on this as I write it, so go to the Comic Shop Locator and put in your post code and find an indy to support.  My local store is incredibly knowledgeable (the owner runs his own comic convention), friendly, happy to get anything in for me that isn’t in stock and keeps a folder with my name on with my Rivers of London single issues for me. You can order online from him too if you really don’t want to leave your house.  Failing that I’m sure Big Green Bookshop would have a go at getting it in for you.  And either way it’ll give you a warm and fuzzy feeling inside for supporting the little guy not the corporate giant!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, children's books, graphic novels

Book of the Week: Lumberjanes Vol 3

As I mentioned yesterday, I did a lot of hours at work last week and not as much reading as I had been hoping, but graphic novels featured heavily in what did get read.  But before I talk about this week’s BotW I just wanted to mention that I’m reviewing on Novelicious again today – if you want to see what I thought about Mary Balogh’s latest Someone to Love you can click here.  With that shameless bit of self-promotion over, lets talk about Lumberjanes Volume Three: A Terrible Plan.

Lumberjanes Volume 3
Do you like my pretty checked table cloth? It was my granny’s and seemed appropriate!

I’ve mentioned Lumberjanes here before in last year’s Christmas books for kids post and it continues to be a great fun, hundred miles an hour journey through summer at a slightly eccentric camp for girls.  The adventures are bonkers, the characters are great and the underlying messages are nothing but positive.  In this volume we join our intrepid heroines as they try to earn badges and escape from dinosaurs (which totally makes sense in the context of the book) whilst we find out more about what some of the girls’ lives are like at home and their feelings about themselves.

This has some different artists to some of the previous issues and at times I didn’t like the drawings as much as I have previously – but that is more about my dislike of things changing in general (which all ties into my dislike of non-matching sets of books, and changes in cover design) because the art work is still beautiful.  I’m not the target market for this, but I still enjoyed reading it a lot and want to get the next volume asap.  I also want to give it to all the little girls I know as an example of female friendships and that girls can do whatever they want to do without boys to help them.  I’m even debating lending my copies to the nieces – and I’m not a big lender of books!

You should be able to get Lumberjanes from any good comic shop – and please do find a comic shop to support.  Amazon are only offering 31p off the RRP on this at time of writing – so why not go and support an independent shop – go to the Comic Shop Locator and put in your post code and it’ll tell you.  My local store is incredibly friendly and happy to get anything in for me that isn’t in stock – and you can order online from him too if you really don’t want to leave your house.  And either way it’ll give you a warm and fuzzy feeling inside for supporting the little guy not the corporate giant!

Book of the Week, Fantasy, graphic novels

Book of the Week: Ms Marvel

As I said yesterday, it’s been a tough decision about what to pick as BotW this week.  In the end I settled on Ms Marvel, because it was my favourite thing that I read last week, even though I don’t always have a lot to say about graphic novels/comics when I write reviews.  But then as I’m thick with cold and cough (in July! I know! So ridiculous) perhaps its the lurgy blocking my creative juices.  Lets stick with that.

 So, Ms Marvel.  I am not up on the Marvel Universe – I’ve seen a few films (they didn’t have Ms Marvel or Captain Marvel in them), but then who hasn’t, but I think this may be my first actual Marvel Comic.  I believe – although I may be wrong – that this is a reboot of an earlier character, but I haven’t read any of the earlier stuff so I don’t have the full back story.  But then I don’t think it affected my enjoyment not knowing any of the rest of the history.

 So, the story.  Kamala Khan is a Pakistani American teenager in Jersey City.  She’s Muslim and her parents are very protective of her.  She chafes at some of the restrictions placed upon her by her family – and ends up with superpowers after an incident at a party she sneaked out to.  In the first trade – No Normal – she gets her powers and starts to get entangled with the Inventor (who we assume is a villain).

I enjoyed this – Kamala is fun and multi-dimensional and she has real-life as well as superhero-y conflicts in her life.  The supporting characters are also great and I learnt a few things as well  but in a subtle way.  It ends in a bit of a cliff-hanger and I’m fairly sure I’ll be buying Volume 2 when I next get to the comic book shop.  I’m not putting any links to buy – because I want you to go down to your comic bookstore and do it there.   Find your local comic book store here.

Children's books, Gift suggestions

Buy a Book for Christmas: Ideas for Children

After Books for Guys and Books for Girls, I give you Books for Kids!  I buy books for all my nieces and young cousins every year.  I think boys and girls should be encouraged to read books with male and female protagonists, so hopefully there’s something for everyone, but obviously these are going to be influenced by what I’ve read and what the girls have read and told me they liked.   I don’t have kids, so if some of my suggestions seem really obvious to those of you reading who are parents, I’m sorry.

Under Fives

An oldie but a goodie to start for the upper end of this age group – Janet and Alan Ahlberg‘s The Jolly Christmas Postman.  They need to be past the ripping things apart stage and be able to cope with the little letters without losing them.  Mog is everywhere this Christmas, and it’s totally deserved – Judith Kerr writes wonderful children’s books.  My favourites are obvious ones like The Tiger Who Came to Tea and all the Mog books, but also The Great Granny Gang.  Jon Klassen‘s books have gone down well with the little people I buy for – I’m still getting fish drawings based on This Is Not My Hat.  I also like Chris Naughton‘s books like Oh No! George – but Little Sis-the-teacher reckons she prefers her picture books with more detail so you can get the kids to describe them.  And finally, if you haven’t already seen them, Oliver Jeffers‘ books are gorgeous – I love Lost and Found.

Five to Eight year olds

The Nieces are in love with Jenny Colgan‘s Polly and the Puffin – we got a postcard with a puffin on it from their latest holiday and a note saying it was because of the book.  If you want to give something educational, but also absolutely beautiful and engrossing, go and find a copy of Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski‘s Maps in your local bookshop.  I think this is gorgeous and it teaches stuff subtly as well, a bit like Richard Scarry did for younger kids.  Their Welcome to Mamoko is equally beautiful.  I’m also debating buying My Sewing Machine book for the nieces – as they have a Grandma who is big into sewing and patchwork – but I’m not sure it’s fair to let her in for the extra work!

Eight to Twelve year olds

School Ship Tobermory by Alexander McCall Smith went down well with Eldest Niece (just under this age bracket, but a keen reader) – who wouldn’t love a story about a boarding school that’s on a tall ship?  I read it and thought it was fun and clever and modern.  In Waterstones last week I saw some lovely new editions of Noel Streatfeild‘s Shoe Books.  I haven’t read them all, but Ballet Shoes is amazing – although I was a little annoyed there wasn’t a similarly pretty version of White Boots (which I still have on my shelf upstairs) which is sometimes called Skating Shoes to make it fit the series. If you want to give some classics, my local branch of The Works had a variety of Enid Blyton Boxsets – including Famous Five, Secret Seven and The Faraway Tree – although I can’t find all of them on the website.

Secret Seven mysteries
Finally a photo I hear you cry! Is this the most picture challenge gift post of the set? Just you wait…

Also mentioned here before are Robin Stevens‘ Wells and Wong mysteries – I can’t wait for Eldest Niece to hit the right age (I think murders are a bit scary for her yet), Murder is Unladylike is the first one, but First Class Murder is the latest and is all you’d hope for from  a book that is boarding school story meets Murder on the Orient Express.  For the top end of this age bracket, I’d also suggest Simon Mayo‘s Itch (which I’ve read) and its sequels Itch Rocks and Itchcraft (which I haven’t) which are sciencey thriller chase stories.

Teen/Young Adult

No surprise that I’m going to recommend Gail Carriger‘s Finishing School series.  Her books are one of my obsessions – I’m currently working my way through her audiobooks on my walks too and from work.  Etiquette and Espionage is the first one, and would be a great gift for someone who has read St Clares/Malory Towers or similar when they were younger.  I really enjoyed the Geek Girl series earlier this year, which would make a great choice for a girl who is into her clothes and fashion, but which isn’t afraid to show the less glamourous side of modelling as well as the difficulties of not fitting in at school.

Geek Girl Picture Perfect
This is the third Geek Girl book – I read the others on Kindle, but at least I have this one to photograph!

I read Jenny Valentine‘s Fire Colour One back in the summer and it would make a good choice for someone who’s read The Fault in Our Stars (they’ll almost certainly already have TFIOS, but I’ve put the link in anyway), but doesn’t quite want to cry as much again.  One which will make you cry (especially if you’ve read other Pratchetts) is the final Tiffany Aching book The Shepherd’s Crown.  I spoke about it at length earlier this year, but I really think that this book is the culmination of a brilliant series.  If you’ve got someone who’s read Harry Potter and/or The Hobbit and is looking for the next move, start them on The Wee Free Men and you may be the originator of a Discworld love affair.  If you’re buying for someone who’s not as much of a reader, may I suggest the first Lumberjanes book.  I loved this graphic novel, and even The Boy pronounced it “quite good, but it ended just as it got interesting”, which presumably bodes well for Part Two.

Lumberjanes
And thank goodness for Lumberjanes. Just you wait until tomorrow though. That’s even worse!

Finally, if in doubt, there’s always a book token.  But lots of your old favourites from when you were that age may still be in print, but out of fashion, so the kids may not have them. my mum’s getting My Naughty Little Sister for one of the little girls she buys for this year.  I bought Eldest Niece The Worst Witch for her birthday in the summer (and I’ve heard a passage from The Worst Witch being used in a school entry reading comprehension test!) and I think she’s since asked for more of them.  Meg and Mog, Hairy McLairyThe Enormous Crocodile and Peace at Last are all still out there too.

Miss Parts 1 and two?  Here’s Books for Him and Books for Her. Coming next, the final part: What books do I want for Christmas?