The Catcher in the Rye
The Shadow of the Wind
The Raven Boys
The Night Circus
Living Violet
Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Casual Vacancy
Carnival of Souls
When She Woke

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Friday, 30 May 2014

Sex Criminals: Suzie down in the quiet by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky

Publication date: 25th September 2013
Published by: Image Comics
Genre: Fantasy (Graphic Novel)

My Synopsis

The first scene is a couple making out in the restroom of a corporate building.  Outside there are police and one is holding a megaphone demanding that said couple come out with their hands up.  Meanwhile... back in the toilets the make-out session between the couple is getting steamy.

Part 1 is told by Suzie, the female protagonist. She starts at the beginning. Suzie's dad was killed when she was about 13.  Her mother couldn't cope, turned to drink and Suzie was left neglected while trying to come to terms with the loss of her dad.  To get away from the sounds of her mother's weeping, she would take baths - keeping the taps on to drown out the noise and sinking under water where everything would be quiet, which is all she wished for. On one of those occasions she starts to 'experiment' with her body and the effect leads to something very strange.  She discovers that what she did set off a reaction triggering a very unique ability - one that keeps Suzie down in the quiet....

My Review

Some may take a look at the title and the cover of this graphic novel and want to move on, assuming it's going to be pornographic and/or sleazy.  Personally, I was curious to find out the relationship between the operative words 'Sex' and 'Criminals' so I decided to give it a go.

My synosis probably makes it sound dreary and depressing but this is not the case.  Suzie's backstory is an unhappy one but it is told in a light-hearted way with humour.  As the title and synopsis suggest, sex does play a significant part.  However, it is not about sex and it is not in any way pornographic.  So if that's what you're looking for (and I'm not judging) then you might want to look elsewhere.

I found it intriguing and amusing; the illustrations are pretty good, too.  As stories go, this has to be one of the most original I have come across and that is the best thing about it for me.  As I am coming to discover about graphic novels, like comics they run as a series of many instalments. I was compelled to get the next one, which I am currently reading and enjoying.  It is worth bearing in mind however, that if you're not prepared to invest in following the many parts, you probably shouldn't bother as the plot is slowly unravelling with each one.  On the plus side, you don't get that problem of padding out or a flimsy plot that is increasingly common with serialised novels.

Sex Criminals is a really good read.  Highly recommended (for adults).

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Gen (#1-3) by Arisa Karino, Shige Nakamura, et al

Publication date: #1, 1st May 2011 / #2, 1st July 2011 /                                   #3, 1st August 2011
Published by: Gen Manga Entertainment, Inc.
Genre: Manga (Japanese Comics)

Gen #1
by

Gen #2 by

Gen #3 by

Gen is described as a series of previously unpublished stories straight from the Toyko underground.  Manga (Japanese comics) is new to me and this is my first experience.  The first thing I had to get used to was reading from right-to-left, which I got the hang of really quickly.  There are 4 stories each by a different writer/graphic designer.  By the end of each one I was left dangling and didn't get it. It was only on getting a copy of the second instalment that I realised all 4 stories are serialised - so story 1 in Gen 1 continues as story 1 in Gen 2 and so on.  Yeah okay to all you clever clogs manga readers who are thinking Duh! right now ; )

Story 1 - Wolf is about an angry young man who has a raw talent for fighting.  He leaves his mother to move to Tokyo in search of his estranged father, who it turns out abandoned him and his mother when he was a child.

Story 2 - VS Aliens is about 3 teenagers, two girls and a boy, one of whom is (possibly) an alien. I don't think I'll even bother to elaborate further.

Story 3 - Kamen tells the tale of a character who has a permanent talking mask stuck to his face.  It communicates with him and if he removes it he will die. The mask has the power to protect him and it does so in order to preserve itself.

Story 4 - Souls (?) You got me.  I'm not entirely sure what this one is supposed to be about.  It sort of reminds me of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol in that a woman is being visited by and spector and is taken on a journey where she faces the error of her ways: her harsh treatment towards her daughter.  It all stems from her personal demons, which we get a look at.  It's like being a fly on the wall of someone's therapy sessions - not exactly light entertainment.


I liked Kamen best and quite liked Wolf.  I would be interested in following those stories.  I found the story-telling and characters of VS Aliens too wooden for my liking.  Also, the teenage boy is on a huge ego kick - he seems to think he has the pick of both girls *yawn*. Souls is a bit too heavy for my liking - all that female weeping and hysteria.  In truth, at times I found myself irritated by the portrayal of the women in these stories and I found the attitudes towards women in general rather pre-20th century.

Perhaps manga is an acquired taste; I'm not sure it's to my taste.  The jury is out and I'd need to read more to know for sure.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Days of the Bagnold Summer by Joff Winterhart

Publication Date: 21st July 2012
Published by: Random House UK
Genre: Contemporary (Graphic novel)

Publisher's Synopsis
A tale of single parenting and heavy metal.

'When someone looks back and writes a history of this summer, two people they will almost certainly leave out are Sue ad Daniel Bagnold...'

So begins Joff Winterhart's sublimely funny and perceptive graphic novel, Days of the Bagnold Summer. Sue, 52, works in a library. Daniel, 15, is still at school. This was the summer holidays Daniel was due to spend with his father and his father's pregnant new wife in Florida. When they cancel his trip, Sue and Daniel face six long weeks together.

Joff Winterhart perfectly captures the ennui, the tension, the pathos and yes, the affection of this mother-son relationship. Already well-known for his animated films like Violet and Turquoise, he here shows himself to be a comics author of extraordinary talent


My Review
Days of the Bagnold Summer is the graphic novel that turned my attention to the genre. I discovered it while listening to a book-related podcast dedicated to GNs and it was at the time that it had been nominated for the 2012 Costa Prize.

What I discovered from reading this novel was that GN's aren't all about superheros and supernatural creatures.  (No doubt most people aren't as clueless as I am.)  This one is a contemporary poignant tale of a relationship between a single mother and her son.  You get to see both perspectives.

I am starting to really appreciate the power of the menage of written and pictorial story-telling. The illustrations in this one are brilliant.  I could actually see traces of Sue as well as Daniel's father in him.

It is realistic and unglamourous in the way British contemporary drama is usually portrayed (in contrast to the fantasy and slickness of American contemporary drama, i.e., characters are good-looking with perfect white teeth, great bodies often glamoursly dressed, living in nice houses, often in quaint small towns or the good parts of well-known cities). 

The synopsis mentions humour and I could see where this was intended, but I didn't laugh much.  If I am honest, I found it rather dreary and a bit of a slog to get through.  Each to their own but, unashamedly, I prefer my drama dished out the slick American way (although beauty is relative and I suppose I can tolerate the absence of perfect white teeth). 

Friday, 2 May 2014

Saga (Volumes 1-3) by Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples


Publication date: Vol 1, 23rd October 2012
                              Vol 2, 2nd July 2013
                              Vol 3, 25th April 2014
Published by: Image Comics
Genre: Science Fiction / Fantasy (Graphic novels)

Saga is a popular series of graphic novels about a couple trying to protect their newborn baby from a war between their two homes.  The narrator is Hazel, a much older version of the mixed-raced infant.  In volume one, Hazel introduces the reader to her parents, reveals some of their backstory and tells how, while on the run, she comes into the world. 

My Synopsis
Landfall is the largest planet in the galaxy.  The inhabitants are humanoid creatures with wings.  The planet is orbited by a moon known as Wreath.  The inhabitants of Wreath are also humanoid but with goat-like features and magical abilities.  The inhabitants of Landfall and Wreath are sworn enemies and have been at war for generations.  Attacking each others' homes has an adverse effect on their own, so they have taken to fighting 'off world' on other planets, thus drawing other species into their battle and forcing them to choose a side.  Alana (pictured on the left of the cover) is a Landfallian soldier who has been sent to one of these planets, Cleave.  There she is assigned the job of guarding prisoners of war. She meets Marko (pictured to her right), a Wreathian soldier and prisoner.  Against the odds, they unite and go on the run together...

My Review
My initial feeling about volume 1 was that, although it has adult content (nudity, sex, swearing, violence and dark areas to the story that may not be suitable for under 15s), the writing is rather juvenile and would appeal mostly (but not exclusively) to teenage boys.  While reading it I thought it was just okay, nothing extraordinary; although it is peppered with humour, which is always good. But after I completed it I found myself coming back to the plot several times - and the more I thought about it, the more I contemplated the serious issues and came to realise it's hidden depths.  For example, while reading it I didn't get why Izabel the ghost had to appear as half a body with her intestines hanging out.  I put this down to appealing to teenage boys who like gore.  But, on reflection, I considered that Izabel was a teenager who died when she accidentally stepped on a landmine and the gore is a constant reminder of the horrors of war. 


The juvenile writing is absent in volume 2, which is probably why I enjoyed it even more than the first.  Being a huge sci-fi fan, the plot is one that appeals to me.  It reminds me most of The Terminator, as this couple and their baby are constantly on the run for their lives (from both machines and mercenaries alike). Also, Marko reminds me of Kyle Reese, the brave human soldier who travelled back in time to protect Sarah Connor from 'termination' and ends up fathering her child (John Connor who grows up and leads the rebellion against the machines).

Most of the time I find it hard to understand how readers can find fictional characters attractive.  (I never got the appeal of Fitzwilliam Darcy or Christian Grey.) The notion seems rather ridiculous to me - and yet I get it where Marko is concerned. I am not sure what the formula is for creating such a character but Staples and Vaughan clearly do. Staples' animation + Vaughan's personable character creation = Marko dripping with sex appeal. (Don't snigger, I kid you not!)  Of course, it does depend on what 'floats your boat' and rather than being the usual over-protective alpha-male, Marko is a combination of 'knight in shining armour' and sensitive 'new man' (yum yum).

If Alana is anything like Sarah Connor it's the transformed one - the one who first appears in the second film; the tough, ruthless, and brave one. I suspect there is a formula that makes her appealing, too (that is, unless one prefers a 'damsel in distress'.)  I did wince at some of the stuff that came out of her mouth (particularly when she and Marko are 'getting down and dirty'); to say some of what she says is 'unladilike' would be an understatement, 'bloakish' would be a more accurate discription. [sexy? funny? outragious!]

Alana discovers, in the most unlikely of places, the idea that there is a better way to live.  Both she and Marko share a sensibility to D. Oswald Heist's philosophy, i.e. war is stupid. It leads them to start thinking about the possibility of peace between their races; an idea that is unthinkable to everyone else.  But the idea results in their very union and the birth of their child, a symbol of future possibility. 

I have now come to appreciate that the Saga series is a combination of slick written and pictorial story-telling.  Graphic novels are known to be generally aimed at [and appeal to] men.  Not this one: Saga is mindful of gender equality, suggesting it would appeal to men and women alike.  The sex and violence is never gratuitous but instead a relevant part of the story-telling.  I have become quite addicted and will be following it with keen interest.

Very highly recommended (to adults).

Friday, 25 April 2014

The Woman He Loved Before by Dorothy Koomson

Publication date: 3 February 2011
Published by: Hachette
Contemporary fiction for women

The publisher's synopsis:
Libby has a nice life with a gorgeous husband and a big home by the sea. But over time she is becoming more unsure if Jack has ever loved her ? and if he is over the death of Eve, his first wife. When fate intervenes in their relationship, Libby decides to find out all she can about the man she hastily married and the seemingly perfect Eve. Eventually Libby stumbles across some startling truths about Eve, and is soon unearthing more and more devastating family secrets. Frightened by what she finds and the damage it could cause, Libby starts to worry that she too will end up like the first woman Jack loved...Tense and moving, The Woman He Loved Before explores if the love you want is always the love you need ? or deserve.

My Review:
I listened to the audio version of this novel and quite liked it. The mystery behind it made it an intriguing page-turner. In particular, I found Jack's first wife Eve’s story fascinating and worked well - as did her relationship with Jack and the reasons for him wanting to 'hang on'. The events of the first date between Jack and Libby were unexpected - and some may be shocked - but it becomes clear that it is significant to the story. I did sometimes find myself questioning the plausibility of aspects of the story (it seemed like things were thrown in to aid the plot - like Libby telling Hector what she knew - would she really do that?). Also, I found the romantic dialogues between the lovers (Jack and Libby / Jack and Eve) a bit too corny and perhaps could have been toned down a bit. Then again, parts of this book are tough to read so maybe she wanted to balance things out.  I am not a fan of soppy romance but it certainly did not put me off as overall it was a great read. This was the first Dorothy Koomson book I read (and this is an old review - hence the quality).  I have since read Goodnight, Beautiful, which I preferred.

The Woman He Loved Before is another bitter-sweet romance by Koomson and (despite in my view the tendency for parts of her plots to be contrived) she does them well. I look forward to reading more of her books.  I already have two more on my shelf - The Cupid Effect and The Chocolate Run - so there are more reviews to come.

Friday, 18 April 2014

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

Publication date:  13th February 2014
Published by: Simon & Schuster 

Publisher's synopsis
Until the moment he received a frantic call from his father, Daniel believed his parents were headed into a peaceful, well-deserved retirement. They had sold their home and business in London, and said "farewell to England" with a cheerful party where all their friends had gathered to wish them well on their great adventure: setting off to begin life anew on a remote, bucolic farm in rural Sweden.

But with that phone call, everything changes. Your mother's not well, his father tells him. She's been imagining things--terrible, terrible things. She's had a psychotic breakdown, and has been committed to a mental hospital.

Daniel prepares to rush to Sweden, on the first available flight the next day. Before he can board the plane, his father contacts him again with even more frightening news: his mother has been released from the hospital, and he doesn't know where she is.

Then, he hears from his mother:

I'm sure your father has spoken to you. Everything that man has told you is a lie. I'm not mad. I don't need a doctor. I need the police. I'm about to board a flight to London. Meet me at Heathrow.

Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother's unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a horrible crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.

My review 

Daniel is hiding something from his parents.  Something that has led him to avoid visiting them since they retired to a remote farm in Sweden.  He soon discovers that they too are hiding things from him.  

First he receives an alarming call from his father (Chris) about his mother (Tilde) and then he receives a worrying one from his mother implicating his father.

When Tilde arrives in London, she asks Daniel to hear her out.  All will be revealed, she clarifies, but she has to be allowed to tell it her way.  All she asks is that he be impartial.  She then begins to give a detailed account of events that have been occurring since she and Chris, moved to Sweden.  This becomes the narrative of the story which is told as though a lawyer is presenting a case to a jury rather than a mother talking to her son.  Tilde outlines the 'facts' as they occurred.  However, not all the information she offers are facts.  She fills in gaps with speculation and, as the reader, I found myself saying - hang on a second, certain things just don't add up.  Even so, her account is believable and it becomes clear that something ugly and sinister is going on in the small rural community that she and Chris moved to - and it would seem Chris is involved.  From very early on Tilde hints at what may have occurred and who the victims are. 

Tilde predicts every move that Chris makes while she is in London giving her account to Daniel - such as his decision to fly to London, his attempts to stop her having an opportunity to convince Daniel that what she has to say is true.  It is also apparent that he withholds information - all of which leaves Daniel suspicious and forces him to consider the possibility that his father is capable of monstrous acts - either that or his mother needs psychiatric treatment - both hard to reconcile with.

In the end, it is for Daniel (and the reader) to decide who to believe.

I really enjoyed this book. The plot was the best thing about it for me.  For example, during Tilde's account she would go off on a tangent and talk about stuff that didn't seem to make sense or be relevant (such as the troll story), leaving the reader to question her sanity.  However, everything comes together and it all makes perfect sense.  

The book is about family secrets and lies.  It is also about a desperate cry for help and the need for redemption.  I admit I was apprehensive and felt I had to brace myself for the big reveal - the subtle hints from Tilde helped me prepare myself.  I felt so engaged I had to see it through to the end - which was unpredictable.


The story is based on a real experience - of the author - although much of the plot is fiction.  

The Farm is a treasure and  I will definitely be reading more from Tom Rob Smith. 
To find out more you can listen to Tom Rob Smith talk about The Farm and his writing as part of the crime fiction discussion on The Guardian Books Podcast.