Hey everyone, and welcome back to the blog! It’s the end of April – assignments have been handed in, including those from my students. And I’ve taken some much needed rest and relaxation over the Easter break too. It’s given me the chance to plunge into some books, so without further ado, let’s begin and fair warning, there may be spoilers.
The first book I read was the hardback edition of Mad Love by Paul Dini and Pat Cadigan. This tells the definitive origin story of Harleen Quinzell aka Harley Quinn, the Clown Princess of Crime. I thought this was a clever origin tale, although there are moments where it becomes word for word from the graphic novel and the animated TV show. Harley’s psychological damage was done at an early age, and so remains with her – it’s never truly spoken about or challenged. This potentially led to her fascination, and later relationship, with the Joker. That relationship is sour – he is physically and mentally abusive, something she continues to take. This theme is present throughout her life, so the final few chapters are almost freeing – if rushed. The writing does feel juvenile at times, and then seems to switch to remember its audience. It’s a little off putting, especially when we see Harley’s humble beginnings. The one problem I had with this was the modernisation – the references to mobile phones and YouTube, and such, doesn’t suit the origin tale. There was an odd moment where we meet Poison Ivy at Arkham, but this doesn’t fit with the original TV show origin… Also, a randomly added trans nurse seemed to be a tick box exercise – it’s like the character was included to say they’re being inclusive and diverse, which is sad. I expected better from the DC Universe… A tragic tale for such a significant character, I did enjoy this and rated it 4 stars.
I then read The Umbrella Academy Vol 1: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. This volume collects the first six issues, out of print short stories and sketchbook ideas. This follows seven miracle extra-ordinary children, raised by millionaire inventor, Reginald Hargreeves. The children are set to save the world, and that’s what they’re going to do… This is a fun, but brutal graphic novel, that stands on its own against the Netflix adaptation. The characters are distinct and tragically flawed, with room for expansion. Vanya is my favourite, though. She has been pushed aside, underestimated – the kind of character I naturally gravitate towards. The art is stylish and bright against the danger and threats of the world. The undercurrent of the world ending is throughout, with room for other stories to continue, and for characters to enjoy their own arcs. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and highly recommend it, and the TV show. I rated this 5 stars.
I then followed this up with the second volume, Dallas. Once again, this is a six issue collection, with sketchbook annotations and a bonus short story. In this installment, the Umbrella Academy are reeling from the events of the previous book. Add into the mix that Number Five is being hunted – and the terrifying agents want him to take out the president! This didn’t feel as coherent – it felt quite jumbled, and I didn’t have much of a connection to the story or the characters this time around. It’s still funny and brightly illustrated, but it wasn’t as much of a ride. The character of Number Five seemed too self-important, even though I appreciate the story is central to him. I understand the emotions that the characters are going through, but there was something lacking. I suppose it does mimic some real life families in that respect. In the end, I rated this 3 stars.
On my Kindle, I then attempted to read Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor, which is a YA urban fantasy. This is the second book in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, and I attempted this as part of the #DOSABreadalong. Following on from the events of the previous novel, the shocking revelations are still settling. Karou has joined the rest of the chimera species, performing resurrection arts to avenge her people. Whilst Karou builds a monstrous army, angel Akiva is waging a battle for hope and redemption… Whilst the writing is utterly charming and the world is intriguing, I found I didn’t really care for the plot. The characters became muddled – even Karou, which is really disappointing, as she’s one of our central characters. Whether I wasn’t in the right frame of mind, or I just wasn’t sure anymore, I don’t know. I might try reading the series later on in the year or something. I did want to mention this because I’d read the first book last month, but I’m sorry to say I DNFed at 37%.
Still on my Kindle, I moved onto The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross. This is the first book in The Queen’s Rising series, which is a YA fantasy. This follows Brienna, who studies at a prestigious home to become impassioned – a fancy term for a scholar of art, dramatics, knowledge, music, and wit. Brienna feels out of place, as she attempts to master knowledge to earn a patron. When she isn’t chosen at the ceremony, she spends the summer trying to build her knowledge further – and trying to figure out why she is experiencing strange memories. During this time, Brienna becomes a passion-daughter of a strange man – a man who is going to attempt to overthrow a king… For a debut fantasy, I was very surprised. I instantly became attached to Brienna – a girl who is out of place, or doesn’t feel like she belongs, living in knowledge. Her attraction to Master Cartier is fiery, and I really enjoyed their chemistry – even if that romance is obvious to everyone. The world building felt solid, and I was engaged throughout. I felt like the theme of family was present throughout too, and I loved that – you don’t always have to love your biological family, you can build your own. My only criticism is that the pacing felt slightly off, and there were times when it sped up – it didn’t feel right at that stage for me. This being said, I was thoroughly surprised and really enjoyed it. I rated this 4.5 stars.
Still with my Kindle, I then read The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang, which is the first book in The Poppy War series, a debut adult fantasy. Inspired by China’s bloody history and the opium wars, this follows orphan Rin from Rooster Province. To escape a marriage proposal, Rin studies to join an elite military academy. Rin must now fight the prejudices of others, whilst discovering a dark power that may play a part in future wars… This was a very dark fantasy, but I found myself gripped throughout – trigger warnings for addiction, discussions of rape, violence and strong language throughout. The world building feels rooted in reality, especially as it is inspired by Chinese culture, and I feel like I was journeying through the various provinces. The characters propel the reader through – Rin can come across unlikable at times and whiny, but this is part of her. She is not naturally skilled and so her knowledge and strength progression is wonderful. Background characters are a wonder – I loved Jiang, Nehza and Altan. They were distinctive and held up against Rin – working and aiding her. The plot itself is wound within political intrigue, a monarchy in tatters, belief in Gods and magic, and the discovery of who you are, and what it is you truly want. There is minimal romance, and I found that I was okay with that! In fact, I enjoyed this book so much that I ended up picking up the paperback edition before I had even finished it! I can’t wait for the sequel, and I definitely recommend this, if you like dark fantasy. I rated this 5 stars.
After that, I decided on something a little lighter, and picked up the manga series, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Vol 1, 2, 3 and 4 by Akira Himekawa. Based on the Nintendo video game of the same name, hero Link (in human and wolf form) attempts to save Hyrule from being corrupted by the Twilight Realm. Along for the ride, and giving help where she can, is the mysterious and powerful Midna… I loved the art in this manga. It’s sharp, clear and crisp, and there’s so much attention to detail in the backgrounds, and in the characters. Whilst the plot does differ slightly from the video game, it works and is emotional throughout. It’s action packed, and I was pulled in straight away. There are still comedic moments to lighten the danger that lurks around every corner. Definitely trigger warnings for Vol 3, as there is attempted self-harm – the scene was harrowing, but also a little too realistic for me. Vol 4 picks up the pace, but it’s too fast, like the author has remembered the length of the game and the battles that must be fought. In the same volume, there are scenes of memory loss, which is utterly heartbreaking – it packs an emotional punch. I’m definitely going to pick the next volume up when it releases in August. I rated Vol 1, 2 and 3 as 5 stars, and Vol 4 as 4 stars.
I then went back to my Kindle and read Everless by Sara Holland, which is the first book in the Everless series, which is a YA fantasy. I feel like this does cross boundaries into science-fiction as well… In the land of Sempera, the rich Gerling’s control everything – including time. Hours, days, weeks, months, years – all are extracted from blood, and are bound to coins to be consumed. The rich live for centuries, whilst the poor bleed themselves dry to simply survive. Jules and her father are behind on rent – and hours. Jules takes a job at the grand Gerling estate to earn enough money to save her father, where she comes across Liam and Roan from her childhood, and the powerful Queen. Danger and temptation lurk around every corner – and a terrifying truth may change Jules’ life forever… I have mixed feelings about this. Everless started with so much promise, but it slowly began to dip into cliches and predictability. This being said, I was drawn in very quickly – the writing style/Jules’ perspective was friendly, like you had known her all your life. I think there’s a commentary on how spending happens within our society – that divide between upper and lower classes, which is handled nicely. I enjoyed the concept of bleeding time – this was refreshing and interesting, but for me, the concept needed fine tuning. Maybe because it is marketed as a fantasy, and not science-fiction, but there was something lacking. As I said, there were many cliches, and only one plot twist had me surprised. The characters were quite predictable, and I didn’t feel much attachment to them, although my favourite was definitely the hard faced Liam. The romance between Jules and Roan was quite flat, and whiny, which was disappointing, but also reminiscent of teenage years. This being said, I found I did enjoy it, and there is definitely room for potential and growth! At the moment, I’m unsure if I will be picking up the remainder of the series, and I rated this 3 stars.
Still on my Kindle, I then read The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, which is a Middle Eastern inspired YA fantasy. This was the first book in The Daevabad Trilogy, and follows Nahri, a con artist on the streets of Cairo. Nahri is determined to make her fortune and escape her life, however, she gets more than she bargained for when she accidentally summons a powerful djinn… I’m in two minds about this book. I loved the whimsical writing style, and the feel of it. Nahri is feisty, as she spends her time on the streets swindling others and stealing from their homes. And then she meets Darra, the djinn – there are times she becomes so meek, that it doesn’t feel right. Darra is very much an alpha-male and it didn’t sit right with me. At one point, he breaks an object to injure himself just to spend time with her and make others leave the room! Darra and Nahri are just two of the many complex characters that we meet – and I think that’s my other issue. There are that many djinn classifications, and characters, and authentic language used, that everything becomes a bit of a mess. Prince Ali’s perspectives I found to be a little lacking, and often confusing, as he tries to help lower castes of people, while endangering himself and his royal heritage. I did enjoy this, just not as much as I hoped I would. With all the confusion and testosterone, I ended up rating this 3 stars.
I then picked up one of my partners graphic novels, and the one I chose was Batman: White Knight by Sean Murphy, with Matt Hollingsworth. Part of the DC Black Label collection, this follows the Joker aka Jack Napier as he gains some semblance of his former self, and becomes a hero for Gotham. Meanwhile, Batman aka Bruce Wayne is proving to everyone that he isn’t the problem, but the solution… This was a wonderful dark take on the role reversals of Joker and Batman – I think there was some deep exploration of their characters. The characters of Jack/Joker have some grain of truth, which is a little worrying. Bruce/Batman plays against this brilliantly – trying to think and outwit someone with a high IQ. The danger of the Neo Joker is a lovely touch, and it’s once again highlighting two sides to every story. I found parts of myself and my abusers in this tale, which was harrowing, but shines a light on the human psyche. Trigger warnings for drug taking, violence and self-harm throughout. I loved this graphic novel – the artwork and details were what I’ve come to expect, and I highly recommend this. I’d love to see this as a film adaptation – animated or live-action, I don’t mind! I rated this 5 stars.
Back to the eBook’s now for my final read of the month – Vengeful by V. E. Schwab, which is the second book in the Villains series. This is an adult science-fiction, which is bloody and action packed! Following on from the events of Vicious, Victor Vale has returned from the dead, but is having issues with his power – and he’s becoming dead again. His enemy Eli, is entombed in prison, experimented on by sadistic scientists, and biding his time. When new EO Marcella emerges, Victor and Eli are set to collide again… This was a really interesting sequel. I loved the characters Marcella and June – they were distinct and fiery, Marcella especially. I do feel like Victor and Eli take a back step for this novel, almost like it isn’t their tale anymore. This book is as dark as the first, but I still love the concept of who is a villain, what makes a villain, what can or cannot be done with these extraordinary abilities…The writing was smooth, and I loved it. I was pulled back into Victor and Eli’s world and I loved my time here. It had a satisfying ending, but as I said, I feel like Victor and Eli take a back seat. For that reason, I rated this 4 stars.
So that completes my April ’19 wrap up! Let me know what book/books you have read this month – whether it’s paper/hardback, audio, eBook, graphic novels or manga, they all count! If you have any recommendations, please feel free to let me know!