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!

My Big Obessions of 2016

As regular readers will know, I’m a binge reader.  I find someone or something new that I like and I gorge on it.  One of the big reasons my to-read pile never seems to shrink is because I’m forever discovering new series and then buying them up to read and ignoring the stuff waiting on the pile. We’ve already revisited last year’s obsessions, and so to mark the end of the year here are my big obsessions of 2016.

Fahrenheit Press

Lets start with the obvious.  And yes, I know. You’ve heard so much from me about Fahrenheit Press this year that you’re starting to think they’re paying me (they’re not) but I could basically have written this whole post obsessing over their books.  But I’m trying to be restrained, so I’m only giving them one entry.  There is something about the books that they publish that just works for me.  They’re not all the same but they work as a group.  I haven’t read all the books that I’ve got through my subscription yet, but everything I have has that same slightly subversive, sideways look at what it’s doing – whether it’s old series they’re republishing (like Sam Jones) or new ones (like Danny Bird).  The truly excellent thing about this particular obsession is that I bought their subscription early in the year, so it’s been excellent value and they’re an ebook publisher so it hasn’t been adding to the actual physical pile. And as I’ve already bought a 2017 subscription I suspect I may be boring you all about them again well into the year.

Girls Own fiction

I’ve always been a sucker for a boarding school story and spent much of my childhood playing made up games about being at one (despite the fact that I’m fairly sure in reality I would have hated it), but until this year my reading in the genre has centred around the authors that were still in print when I was small (so Elinor M Brent Dyer, Enid Blyton, Anne Digby).  In 2016 I’ve managed to lay my hands on some who are more forgotten – like Mabel Esther Allen, Gwendoline Courtney and the downright obscure like Phylis Matthewman – as well as filling in more gaps in my favourites (like the end of Lorna Hill’s Sadler’s Wells series) and some modern fill in titles for my favourite series and it’s been glorious. Some of them are just great stories, some of them are so bad it’s funny and often you’re reading them giving side eye.  I wouldn’t necessarily lend them to a child now, but for me personally they’re a fabulous escape from the misery of every day life.  In Boarding School-land bad deeds are found out, no one is ever bullied, and everyone loves their school in the end (if they don’t, they’re probably A Bad Influence and may not return next term).   I’m still not really into horse books and there’s only so much Guides I can take, but I’ll try anything – up to and including books about girls who want to be kennel maids…

The Chronicles of St Mary’s series

I don’t know how this had passed me by before.  In case you’ve missed it too, The Chronicles of St Mary‘s follows Madeleine Maxwell and her colleagues at St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research – historians who have time machines and use them to go and investigate what really happened in the past.  It doesn’t often go to plan.  It’s made me laugh, it’s made me cry and it’s made me go and check up on some other periods in history that are out of my comfort zone.*  I stumbled across one of the free novellas on audible and listened to it on one of my jaunts to the Youth Hostel back in March and fell in love.  I went back to the start been working my way through the series since, but have been trying to pace myself so I don’t run out of books.  I’ve got just finished book six and I’ve got book seven waiting for me on my Kindle – but book eight isn’t out until July so I’m trying to control myself.

Sarah Morgan

I will confess to not having read any Sarah Morgan before I met her at Sarah MacLean’s London tea party in May and got a goody bag with one of her books in it.  Without that goody bag, I’m not sure I would ever have picked up one of her books, but I’ve read six novels and a prequel novella now, and have an advance copy of her next one on the stack and another few of her backlist on the kindle having picked them up on offer.  They  challenge my ideas about what I do and don’t read.  Morgan’s background is in category romance, which I haven’t really read since I glommed on a box of old-school Mills and Boons at my Granny’s house when I was about 12.  I don’t think that I would read a medical romance (which is what Morgan started out writing as she was a nurse) and I definitely don’t do secretaries and billionaires, but it turns out that I do like contemporary romances where smart, sassy women meet their perfect matches. Because I’ve enjoyed Sarah Morgan’s books I’ve ventured further into some of the other contemporary romance authors I’ve heard mentioned on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  And if the spines say Mills and Boon, at least the cover designs aren’t cringey any more!

Books with Brontes

This seems bonkers considering the fact that I’ve never read Wuthering Heights all the way through, and haven’t read Jayne Eyre since I was  about 9, but this year seems to have been the year of me reading books featuring the Brontes in some shape or form. I think I’ve read about half a dozen now.  Some have been amazing, like The Madwoman Upstairs or Jane Steele, some have been less so, none have made me want to re-read Jane Eyre (but lets face it, if Thursday Next couldn’t manage that, I don’t think anything will) or have another go at Wuthering Heights, but I’ve enjoyed them and done some more reading around the Brontes.  I think perhaps it’s because I don’t know much about them or their books that I enjoy them so much – there’s not much chance of me spotting mistakes or inconsistencies!  And on top of all this, Trisha Ashley’s next novel, which I’m lucky enough to have an advance copy of, is set in Bronte country as well!

So there you have it, my bookish obsessions of 2016. Place bets now on what might make the list in 12 months time.

*My comfort zone being Western European history post 1485, with a strong preference for post 1750.

Pick Me Up Books

It’s a funny old time at the moment isn’t it?  There’s so much news about – and lots of it is depressing for various reasons, that working in news for my day (and this week night) job* is getting a bit tough.  I’ve retreated into the world of Happy Endings.  Dystopian fiction is firmly off the menu, as is anything that might end on death, destruction or a down note.  This means I’ve been revisiting some old favourites again as well as reading loads of romance and cozy crime.  You’ll get some posts soon on the best of the new stuff – but I thought I’d also share some of my favourite old friends and Not New books.

Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell books from Virago

Aren’t they gorgeous? And there are more coming later in the year too.

Witty interwar comedies, mostly of manners, set in Barsetshire.  They’re a bit Mapp and Lucia (but with more sympathetic characters) and they remind me of the Diary of a Provincial Lady as well.  If you like the world of Golden Age crime, but don’t want the murders, then come take a look for a bit of wry social satire.  Virago are re-releasing them at the moment – and they’re gorgeous – but you should also be able to get them from a good second hand shop too.  You may remember I had Northbridge Rectory as a BotW a few weeks back, but as well as that one, if you liked Provincial Lady… start at the beginning of the series with High Rising, but if you loved boarding school stories, start with Summer Half and if you liked Downton, start with Pomfret Towers.

Charlaine Harris

 

Charlaine Harris books

The Charlaine Harris shelf, several series, mostly matching but with a few size issues!

Sookie Stackhouse, Harper Connelly, Lily Bard, Aurora Teagarden (a new book coming soon!) or Midnight, Texas, it doesn’t matter.  Yes they all have a body count, and you might lose a character you like from time to time.  But as escapist reading they’re pretty much all you could want.  Soapy melodrama with vampires (sometimes), small towns and kick-ass women (although Rue can be a bit wet at times).  Perfect for binge reading to take your mind off the real world.  After all there aren’t any vampires, werewolves or witches in the real world.

The Cazalet Chronicles

I had four matching copies. Then the fifth book arrived. And I got the hardback.

Retreat into the world of Home Place, the Brig and the Duchy, their children and grandchildren.  You meet them in 1937 and you can follow them through the Second World War and beyond across five books – until the grandchildren are grown up with families of their own.  There are so many characters and so many different stories that you can read 400 pages without out noticing.  Everyone has a favourite or two – mine are Rupert (from the children) and Polly and Clary (from the grandchildren).  I think my mum’s copies are so well thumbed that they fall open to my favourite sections about each of them – especially in Casting Off.  Glom on them on the beach if you’re on holiday, as I resist the temptation to rebuy a new matching set – you can get all 5 books for £6.99 from the Book People as I write this.

Vicky Bliss and Amelia Peabody

My kindle go-to at times like these is Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss and Amelia Peabody serieses.  I tried to pick one, but I couldn’t.  I mentioned both in passing in my Nightshift books post back in this blog’s early days and Amelia got a shout out in my Summer Reading post two years ago, but I was shocked I hadn’t given either a post of their own.  Amelia is a female Egyptologist in the late nineteenth century.  Vicky is an art historian in sort-of fairly recent times.  Both end up in thrilling adventures.  Amelia picks up a crew of regular side-kicks along the way including, but not limited to a husband, a son, a faithful site foreman and an arch-nemesis and Vicky just keeps running into this gentleman thief-con artist type.  Both remind me in some ways of a female Indiana Jones, but funnier.

And on top of all that, there’s Georgette Heyer, Janet Evanovich, Peter Wimsey and a few of my recent BotW picks that would serve the same purpose and cheer you up too – check out Little Shop of Lonely Hearts, The Rogue Not Taken, Sunset in Central Park and Fangirl.  Also, if in doubt, read Georgette Heyer – start with Venetia or Regency Buck. Coming soon: Summer Holiday reading recommendations…

*In case you missed it I’m a journalist in real life.

 

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.

Book of the Week: The Night Circus

This week’s book of the week is Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.  In another tale of the state of the pile, this was a Christmas book from my mother in 2014.  In my defence, it did get a bit misplaced for a while in a storage box and then got shuffled to the bottom of a pile it shouldn’t have been on – but thanks to my mum’s habit of writing dedications in the front of gift books I have the guilts.  Sorry mum.

Anyhow, everyone else read this 18 months ago at least, so I’m behind the curve, but in case you are too, The Night Circus tells the story of Le Cirque de Rêves and some of the people who live there.  The circus arrives without warning, is only open at night and is filled with enchantment and wonder.  The book focuses on several characters in particular, but to say much more is to say too much.  It covers decades in the lives of the key players – starting before the invention of the circus and switches backwards and forwards through time as you learn some of the secrets behind the Circus of Dreams.

I started it before those pesky nightshifts and it took my brain some time to recover so it took me longer to read than how good it is.  But once my brain was functioning normally again I gobbled this up.  It’s clever and it’s magical but not too far from reality in many ways.  It’s romantic and intriguing and I wanted more.  I suspect I’ll be going back to reread this again and that I’ll get even more from it second time.

Magic! Illusions! Kittens! Clocks! Scarves! The Night Circus has all this and more – and now it’s got me wanting some more books with magical realism.  I listen to Book Riot’s Get Booked podcast and there have been several people asking for books to fill a Night Circus-shaped void in their lives, so once I’ve got the pile sorted a little bit I may have to look into that.  In the meantime, I’m ransacking the existing backlog for stuff that might scratch that itch.  Luckily I still have some Peter Grant saved on the shelf.

Anyhow.  Get your copy from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles and on Kindle or Kobo.

 

Book of the Week: Body Work 1

Tricky choice this week.  I read Eloisa James’ My American Duchess and I have things to say about it – but I read it for Novelicious, so you’ll have to wait!  I also read the second Sam Jones book and that was, if anything, even more fun than the first (Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane references!) but it’s only been two weeks since I made The Black Rubber Dress BotW and I don’t like to repeat myself too often*.  So I’m going left field and picking a comic – Part 1 of Body Work, the Rivers of London graphic Novel.

I’ve mentioned Ben Aaronvitch here before (Rivers of London was a BotW and a Christmas Pick for Him) and i actually broke one of my rules reading this – this is actually set between book 4 and book 5 in the series and I was only reading book 3 when I read this (although book 4 may be following shortly).  But having missed out on a physical copy of this in its first printing back earlier this year, I treated myself to this at the weekend to see what I thought of it ahead of the release of the trade in April.

I’m not a big reader of graphic novels, so something based on a familiar set of characters is attractive to me.  Of course in these cases there’s always the risk that the illustrations won’t match the pictures that you have in your head of the characters.  But in this case, that wasn’t a problem for me.  This isn’t very long, but all the characters that I encountered in this were near enough to how I imagined them.  It’s pretty much all set up for what is going to come next, but it’s fun, witty and feels like it fits with the novel.

It left me wanting to know what happens next, but I need to read book four first so that I don’t ruin anything when I read the next part of this.  If you want to try a graphic novel, the Kindle version (read on a tablet) is under £2 at time of writing, or if you trust me you can get your preorder in for the Trade version in Paperback or Kindle.  But as it’s so far ahead until it comes out, please do consider buying it from your local comic book store and supporting an indy.  If you don’t know where that is, here’s a handy resource to help you.  My local shop is friendly and helpful – and will get copies of stuff in for me *justlikethat* without deposit or anything.  If you want more recommendations they’ll be able to help too.

* Although do read Sam Jones.  It’s so worth it.

Time Travel Novels

I think I have a problem with time travel romances.  I love time-slip novels – like Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series – which have two parallel narratives set in different times.  I love straight historicals.  But I can’t think of a time travel romance – or even time travelling novel that I loved – unless you’re including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (a couple of hours on the Time turner doesn’t count in my book) or the Thursday Next Series (which is more dimension jumping than time travel).  And after reading a time-traveller the other week, I started to wonder why.

Fundamentally, I think that I find it very hard to believe there’ll be a happy outcome – and that’s what you want in romances – because one is either going to have to go back to their own time and be miserable, or one is going to have to stay where they are, and I never believe that that will continue to be happy past the last page.  After all, one member of the duo is living out of their time – either with a massive amount of knowledge about the future and the advances there are or with a massive gap in their knowledge of the modern world – and on top of that, everyone they ever knew/loved is either dead or not yet born and thus they’ll never see them again.  I text my sister daily, and speak to my mum at least twice a week – and can’t imagine voluntarily chosing to put myself out of contact with them permenantly – and leave them wondering what has happened to me.

And that’s before you get to the fact that I’ve watched a lot of Scifi and fantasy TV over the years – from Star Trek to Crime Traveller and most of the variants in between – and have had it drilled into me that when you’re messing around in the past it’s very easy to change the timeline of the future and destroy the world.  And most books just ignore The Implications and don’t mention it or skim over it somehow.

Am I over thinking this?  Probably.  But that’s the kind of person I am.  I once spent 20 minutes crying on my Grandma’s lap because I’d just realised that Kaiser Wilhelm was Queen Victoria’s grandson – and wouldn’t she have been so upset if she’d realised he’d started a war against his grandma’s country.  Yes.  I was a strange 8 year old.  But that gives you a clue as to how my mind works.

So in the spirit of the New Year, does anyone have any really good time travel recommendations for me?  Books that I won’t buy and then ignore in favour of everything else ever because I’m convinced I’m going to hate them?  Because I got a copy of the first Outlander 18 months ago because everyone else was raving about it – and I still haven’t read it.  I took it on holiday with us back in 2014 as one of my paperbacks – and The Boy started reading it instead of me (he never takes enough books with him, but that’s another story) and he didn’t finish it either.  It sat under our coffee table for another year after that.

Go on.  Change my life. I dare you.