I knew the story would change as I told it

bitter greensBitter Greens
by Kate Forsyth

This book has a lot of elements that appealed to me: a dark retelling of Rapunzel, a fictionalised account of the writer of the version of Rapunzel most of us know – Charlotte-Rose de la Force – and the story of a 16th century courtesan in Venice who was muse to the great artist Titian. Plus that absolutely gorgeous cover art. How could I resist?

Did it live up to expectations? Yes and no. About a quarter of the way through, I was a little bored and even considered stopping reading. But from about halfway until the end, I was gripped and thoroughly enjoying the ride. So what was the difference?

The bulk of the start of the book is about Charlotte-Rose, but the interesting bits of her story are saved for later on – and it does get very interesting. The book’s opening tells us that she has been banished from the Versailles court of her cousin Louis XIV and been sent to live in a convent as punishment for her behaviour. There are lots of details of how austere and rule-filled the convent is, and flashbacks to court to reveal how wide the contrast is.

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September reading round-up


I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog because we’ve been off holidaying again. This time we’re in Yorkshire, where we’ve enjoyed a sheep fair, a brewery, some old ruins and some fancy gardens, among other things.

It’s been a really lovely week and I have even found time for reading, but I don’t plan on reviewing any of it here properly. Partly that’s because it’s all starting to blend into one. I bought the recent Neil Gaiman Humble Bundle, a digital collection of rarities either wholly or partly written by Gaiman. Among the comics and short story compilations there are some more unusual works, such as Ghastly Beyond Belief, a co-production with Kim Newman collecting notably terrible quotes from science fiction and fantasy novels. Which is hilarious.

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Sunday Salon: How I learned to love comics

The Sunday SalonGrowing up, my Dad bought us the Beano every week and I loved to read about the Bash Street Kids and all those other characters. But then I got too old for the Beano and I never replaced it with other comics, turning instead to novels.

When I met Tim he wasn’t a big reader of comics either, but he owned a few and had read a few more, and over the years he’s increasingly become a big fan, to the point where the staff at our local comic shop know him by name and we’ve started to invest in comic book storage boxes. I’ve always liked Tim’s taste in books, so I figured I should see what this comic thing was all about, in case I was missing out on something.

I didn’t feel interest in classic superhero stuff at first, because they all have these huge decades-old universes that call back to all that background, and even outside of superheroes I was tentative of where to dip my toe, so I opted mostly for one-off graphic novels.

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Recent reads: more comics

I have been tearing through comics lately, so here are some brief thoughts on a few that I most definitely recommend.

ms marvel vol3Ms Marvel vol 3: Crushed
by G Willow Wilson, Elmo Bondoc and Takeshi Miyazawa

The fun continues for the teenage superhero in Jersey City. Kamala uses her Ms Marvel costume to attend the school Valentine’s Day dance and bumps into Loki there, being his charming self. And after that mostly light-hearted interlude, Kamala has her first crush, which of course isn’t going to run smoothly. Her brother Aamir becomes a more rounded character than simply following the rules of society and railing at Kamala with their parents. As with the previous volumes, the comic explores real human issues around growing up and society at large through the distorting lens of superheroes and supervillains. I am thoroughly in love with this series and looking forward to what’s next for Kamala.

Published 2015 by Marvel.

Source: Foyles Bristol.

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Genre limitations

The general/literary section.
One of my general/literary fiction shelves.

As anyone who reads this blog/scans my reviews archive can tell, my reading leans heavily towards literary fiction. Sure, there’s a pinch of sci-fi and a touch of comics (an increasingly large touch) and a sprinkling of literary essays, but overall my reading has a clear leaning. I don’t necessarily want to change that – I enjoy most of what I read – but I would like to widen the boundaries a bit more.

A recent trip to my Dad’s house had me scouring the familiar old bookshelves and remembering how I used to read a lot of autobiographies (my Mum’s influence, I suspect) but also had phases of horror/thrillers, comic fantasy and historical romance, none of which I read a whole lot of these days. It could just be that my tastes have changed (I’m certainly more squeamish about graphic violence) but it could be that I have discounted whole sections of the bookshop through a combination of poor memory/one bad experience tainting the genre/snobbery.

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We all behave differently depending on the situation

QuietQuiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking
by Susan Cain

I had been looking forward to this book for a long time. I watched and enjoyed Cain’s TED talk about introversion and I have seen many positive reviews. Perhaps I had overhyped the book to myself, but in the end I was disappointed – I felt the book was trying to be too many things and didn’t quite hit the mark.

As the title suggests, this book is about people who are quiet, or introverted. An author’s note acknowledges that Cain has followed the popular conception of introversion as an all-encompassing label for quiet people, rather than using one of the various scientific descriptions. (Personally I think that information would have been useful in the main text.)

“We all behave differently depending on the situation. But if we’re capable of such flexibility, does it even make sense to chart the differences between introverts and extroverts? Is the very notion of introversion-extroversion too pat a dichotomy…Aren’t we all a little of both?”

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Here ends the summer book bingo

Today is officially the last day of the Nights on the Bookstand Summer Book Bingo and I have failed to complete any more rows or columns. I tried!

For “Revolves around a holiday” I read Us by David Nicholls. For “With a happy ending” I read Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin, which, as I mentioned yesterday, might not strictly count anyway. For “By any Booktopia author” I’ve started but not finished Quiet by Susan Cain. And I hadn’t even chosen a book for the last square I was aiming to fill, “A presidential biography”. I was thinking of reading one of Barack Obama’s books, but Tim suggested I look outside the USA and I got completely stuck. Also I ran out of time.

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Late summer reads in brief

As well as the proper serious books that I’ve read and reviewed lately, I’ve also been powering my way through lots of comics – and a kids’ classic. Tim keeps finding new comic series he thinks I’ll like – and he’s generally right – as he makes his way through the Marvel NOW relaunch. Which means my comic reading is almost exclusively Marvel at the moment. If anyone has any non-Marvel comic recommendations, please do send them my way! I’ve been reading single issues for the most part online, but I did splash out and buy the trade paperback volumes of Ms Marvel because it is awesome.

fantasticfour_nowFantastic Four issues 1–8
by Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley

I came to this reboot of the Fantastic Four – genius Reed Richards/Mr Fantastic, his wife Sue Storm/the Invisible Woman, her brother Johnny Storm/the Human Torch and Reed’s best friend Ben Grimm/the Thing – with my only pre-existing knowledge of the group being the 2005 film starring Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba. Which is not a lot of knowledge. But Fraction does a pretty great job of summarising the current state of things before changing everything up. Essentially, Reed Richards and Sue Storm run a sort of school, the Future Foundation, for gifted children of all alien/non-human species as well as the odd human, including their own two children Franklin and Valeria. But the Fantastic Four are always off fighting evil away from the kids. And on their last adventure Reed discovered that his body is breaking down in some mysterious way that can’t be fixed with Earth technology. So he decides to kill two birds with one stone and suggests the Fantastic Four take Franklin and Valeria on an educational adventure across space and time. He doesn’t tell anyone that he is secretly searching for a cure that they may all desperately need. Matt Fraction’s stamp on this series is very clear, with gentle humour and genuine emotional complexity rolled in along with romping spacetime adventures. It’s a lot of fun.

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August reading round-up

Happy Bank Holiday Monday to those of you having one!

I’m cheerful having spent most of the weekend celebrating 13 years with Tim. Tim gave me a night in a fancy hotel, I gave him a behind-the-scenes tour of Temple Meads train station and the SS Great Britain. I clearly got the better end of that deal (though the tour was a lot of fun too).

Secret underground

I’ve also read some great books this month, my favourite being The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. What was your favourite recent read?

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