Book of the Week

Book of the Week: The Last Hero

A bit of a different direction for this week’s pick. In fact I had plenty of options to chose from, so as there aren’t a lot of Terry Pratchett things I haven’t already read and even less of them in the Discworld, I’ve taken a rare opportunity.

This is a graphic novel about Cohen the Barbarian’s final quest – and the efforts of the wizards of Ankh Morpork to stop him before it leads to the end of the world. Cohen first appeared in The Light Fantastic and is leader of the Silver Hoarde – a band of elderly barbarian heroes. At the start of the Last Hero, Cohen and his friends are fed up of the infirmities that come with their advancing age so decide to climb to the top of the highest mountain on the Discworld and meet the gods that live there. Of course this isn’t all they want to do when they get there and therein lies the problem.

This isn’t long, but it is a lot of fun – partly because story features so many the side-ish regular characters that it’s always a delight to see again. It’s hard to say too much without giving the plot away, but obviously there is Vetinari, and also some of the key figures from the Unseen University, including Rincewind. And of course it is beautifully illustrated. I do love Paul Kidby’s Discworld art – I mean I have a print of his Errol the Dragon artwork on my wall at home – and there are some lovely extra touches here as well as the illustrations that tell the story. Basically it’s a lovely way to spend some time.

I bought my copy in paperback form, because that’s how I like to read stuff with illustrations, but it is available on Kindle and Kobo, although your experience with that may depend on what sort of reader you have to read it on.

bookshelfies

Bookshelfie: Modern (mostly) Middle Grade

We’re getting to a point now where there aren’t a lot of nice neat and tidy shelves for me to show you before we get to what I think of as the Chaos Shelves. But then as I’ve been promising all year that I’m planning to reorganise some of the shelves and show you the results, then at least you’ll have seen the before and after when it happens. Anyway, I don’t imagine that this shelf will change much in any reorganisation. This is the bookshelf in the back spare bedroom. This has mostly been my office over the last nearly two years, but it’s also where any young people who might stay with us would sleep, so it made sense to use the shelves in there (left by the previous owners, who used it as their kids bedroom) for books suitable for any young people who might stay, and it also tends to be where the graphic novel end of my book collection ends up. And there are quite a few familiar books on here – recent BotW Piglettes, Bloodlust and Bonnet and The Unforgettable Guinevere St Clair and less recent BotWs The Good Thieves, Carry On and Pumpkinheads. There’s also various series that have come up at various points – like the Wells and Wong books that I own in paperback, the Lumberjanes and Fence graphic novels and the Tiffany Aching novels from the Discworld series. It’s starting to look a little full, but I’m not sure there’s anything here that I’m prepared to get rid of, so when it gets full it’s likely to be a case of moving stuff to other places rather than a rationalisation situation…

book round-ups, Recommendsday, reviews

Recommendsday: July Quick Reviews

I’ve already written about so much this month and there were so many re-reads that I was worried I wouldn’t have a lot to write about that I liked and hadn’t already. But I’ve managed to pull three books out of my hat so well done me!

That Woman by Anne Sebba

My interest in the Abdication crisis is well known at this point. This has been on the list for a while as it is meant to be one of the more definitive ones and I picked this up second hand in the nice charity shop near work a few weeks back and got to it promptly so that I can lend it to mum! It’s interesting, but there’s not a lot of focus on her post war life. I think Andrew Lownie’s Traitor King has more on her post war life than this does – and that’s focussed on him! But it is good on her childhood and pre-duke life as well as her potential motivations.

Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy by Chynna Clugston Flores et al

My love for Lumberjanes is also well known, and well publicised on here, so I’m not quite sure how I’d missed that there had been a Lumberjanes and Gotham Academy crossover book. But there was and it came out in 2017 so I’m well behind the times as I filled in the gap in the series. I haven’t read any Gotham Academy, but that didn’t matter as this is essentially a two schools run into each other, are rivals and then have to work together to defeat a baddie story. And it’s got a possessed house and 1980s theme so it’s a lot of fun.

Shipped by Angie Hockman

And finally a quick mention for this one. It was billed as “The Unhoneymooners meets the Hating Game” with a marketing manager for a holiday firm forced to go on a cruise with her work arch-nemesis and I love an enemies to lovers romance, but didn’t quite work for me as well as I wanted because it hit some of my “why are you acting like this” buttons and the heroine really, really annoyed me. But I know that a lot of that is a me thing, so people with a higher (lower?) embarrassment threshold will probably love it. However, if you want a book with a cruise ship and a romance (even if the romance is a bit secondary) then try The Unsinkable Greta James.

And finally, a reminder in case you need it of this months Books of the Week: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow; Mendelssohn and Murder; The Incredible Crime and the aforementioned Unsinkable Greta James, which I actually read right at the end of June but was reviewed in July. The series posts were: the Affair of… series; The Grantchester series, Vicky Bliss and a revist of the Phryne Fisher books. And finally the Recomendsdays were novels about Friendships and mysteries with Vicars.

Welcome to August everyone!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: June 2022 Quick Reviews

I read a lot of books last month. But there were also a lot of rereads, and I do have this terrible tendency to have already written about al lot of books by the time we get to this point in the months. But I have a plan to try out for that in July, so I’ll keep you posted…

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Cover of Lessons in Chemistry

Elizabeth Zott is a scientist. The trouble is that it is America in the 1960s and women apparently women aren’t meant to be scientists. Her Nobel nominated colleague Calvin can see that she’s a scientist and a lot more and the two of them start a relationship. But three years later Elizabeth is a single mother and is presenting the world’s most unconventional cooking show on regional TV. I need to give you a warning serious sexual assault early in this book and a death a little while after, but if you can cope with that once you get out the other side you’re ok. And we all know that I’ve had trouble with dealing with stuff like that recently and I was find with this. Elizabeth is an brilliant character – she knows what she wants to do and refuses to understand people who tell her no or change what she’s doing if she thinks she is right. The book is told from various different character’s perspectives, including her dog and her daughter and it’s just a delight. Six Thirty is the smartest of us all. This s Bonnie Garmus’s debut novel and it’s such a delight it was nearly BotW yesterday. It’s had a lot of buzz so you should be able to get it really easily – and if you are going on holiday, it was definitely in the airport bookshops when we were there!

Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron by Julia Quinn and Violet Charles

This is much referenced in the later Julia Quinn novels, and now we finally have (a graphic novel version of) Miss Butterworth! In the books it’s a romantic and gothic novels – much play is made of its outlandish plot – a character is pecked to death by pigeons for example. And it’s everything you would expect – utter, utter madness, beautifully illustrated by Quinn’s sister Violet Charles. I enjoyed this and I’m so glad it got published – for reasons that will become clear if you read to the end.

The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle by Neil Blackmore

Benjamin and Edgar Bowen head out into Europe on a Grand Tour that their mother has devised for them to help them meet People of Quality so they can come back with an enhanced social standing to help the family. But when Benjamin meets Horace Lavelle, the brothers’ paths and goals diverge. This came out in 2020 – I got a copy from the work book sale a few weeks back and then realised that I had it in the NetGalley backlog as well. Oops. Anyway, I liked the premise and the writing style, but it was a bit too bleak for me in the end. I don’t do well with books that are hurtling towards disaster at the moment, even if they are dealing with expectations and society and judgment and constructs and stuff that I am interested in. I wanted it to be ok for Benjamin; but I knew it wouldn’t be. But historical fiction isn’t always neat and happy, and may be that is the point. I suspect that pre-pandemic I would have been more enthusiastic about it – so I suspect other people who are not in need of neat resolutions and/or happy endings at the moment may really enjoy it.

Paper Lion by George Plimpton

So this was one of the longest of the long runners on the still reading pile. And that’s partly because it was a paperback so didn’t go in the work rucksack but mostly because I managed to lose it for ages! Anyway, this is a legendary book about American football in the 1960s when a journalist managed to persuade the Detroit Lions to let him join their preseason training camp as a quarterback. Obviously a lot has changed in professional football since then, but this is a fascinating glimpse of how sportsmen trained and lived at the time as well as the workings of an NFL team. If you like sport it’s definitely worth looking out for.

Enjoy!

Book of the Week, graphic novels

Book of the Week: Bloodlust and Bonnets

It was a really fun week of reading last week – and I had a few options for this today. But I decided to pick a graphic novel for the first time in a long time this week and it’s a really fun one.

Bloodlust and Bonnets is a pastiche of romantic literature, where a trio of misfits go chasing after vampires for Reasons. Lucy is an innocent and highly suggestible debutant. Shram is a mysterious bounty Hunter. Lord Byron is, well Lord Byron. There is a psychic eagle and a talking castle and lies, flirting and manipulation. And lots of gory slapstick stuff. It’s a lot of fun and very clever.

With my poor record of having read the classics, I think I’ve read more books about Romantic literature or pastiching romantic literature than I’ve actually read of actual classic novels this is based on, but I still got most of the jokes – especially about Byron after I read The House of Byron last year. And I really love Emily McGovern’s art – I have one of her Life as a Background Slytherin prints on my kitchen wall – and this is just as delightful. She does so much with not many lines and it’s so clever. As you can see from the cover, the faces are basically eyebrows and dots and yet they convey so much. It’s a delightful way to spend a few hours. This was McGovern’s first graphic novel – her second, Twelve Percent Dread, is out in July and I already have it on order at the comic book store.

My copy of Bloodlust and Bonnets came from my local comic store, and you should try yours first for it too – if they don’t have it they can order it in for you. Otherwise, you should be able to order it from the usual sources.

Happy reading!

graphic novels

On my wish list: a new graphic novel series

So, I talk a lot here about what I’ve read – but not so much about what I want to read more of. And at the moment, I’m on the hunt for a new graphic novel series to get my teeth into. I have a really good local comic book shop and I’ve been having a nose through the shelves every time I go to pick up my regular orders, but so far, nothing has jumped out at me.

So what do I like to read? Well as you can see from the picture above, I love Lumberjanes and Fence, and I’ve ventured a bit into one off, longer titles. On the downstairs shelf, I’ve got the whole run of Paper Girls and a large collection of Rivers of London graphic novels. So ideally, I’m looking for something in a similar vein. Or maybe combining the two?! So teenage magicians that aren’t too gory?

I’m not a big super hero reader – mostly because I don’t really know where to start and the series seem intimidatingly long and complicated. Ive toyed with some of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics but again, I’m not quite sure where to start. I’ve also never really tried manga – mostly because I don’t know where to start! I do have the manga versions of the first three Parasol Protectorate novels, and as you can see I’m not averse to a graphic novel retelling of a story I’m already familiar with, so maybe that’s where I should be looking next!

Hit me up with your suggestions in the comments!

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!