Saturday, 8 February 2014

Dream Thief Volume 1Dream Thief Volume 1 by Jai Nitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


It's not often that I finish a new graphic novel and say that, especially one by newer writers and artists, but that's exactly how I felt upon finishing Dream Thief .

The basic premise is that unreliable stoner John Lincoln is still trying to find a way to impress his sister, successful best friend and his paranoid girlfriend. At the end of yet another binge he wakes up wearing the Aboriginal mask he'd stolen from a gallery the night before as well as a high-jacker in the form of a murder victim's angry spirit which has possessed Lincoln's body. Naturally this freaks Lincoln out, but the more it keeps happening (a new possession happens when he sleeps, gaining their abilities each time to boot) the sooner he realises that they are not only connected, but the trail goes right to his deceased father.

Lincoln is a rare character in graphic novels as he's totally believable and even though the set-up is supernatural, you're never left thinking it's fantasy. A lot of that is also to do with the highly impressive art, and I was amazed when I got to the end notes to discover that this is artist Greg Smallwood's first published job. He will be a guy to watch! At no point is anything messy or hard to decipher (which can be the case especially when viewing digitally) and each panel flows seamlessly into the next.

Must also mention that there are some gorgeous variant covers and pin ups at the end of the book with art full of both atmosphere and humour.

Volume 1 contains editions 1-5 of the comic and despite searching, I can't find any sign of further issues. Hopefully these will come to the fore soon enough as by the end of this edition I was eager to see where Lincoln's story would go next.

This book was supplied as an advance review copy ebook via NetGalley in return for an honest review and is in no way indicative of the final print copy.

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Friday, 7 February 2014

Quick Reads: An Open Book

This brilliant short film made by Quick Reads sums up in 5 minutes what I've been shouting from the roof tops for years.

Adult literacy has been swept under the carpet for far too long now. I see it every day-kids desperate to learn but with parents so scared and unsure of their abilities that they avoid reading with their children. We are so pushy about 'daily reading' and reaching those targets, yet when that child who reads once a term is confronted about the lack of entries in their reading records, the question is always "Why didn't you read?" never "Does Mummy/Daddy read to you?"

Those adults who find it hard to teach their children are reluctant to step into in a Waterstones to just 'browse', nor are they breaking down the door of their local library.  Slap a print out of learning objectives, or Gove's latest educational ligature in front of someone who is unsure and you'll send them further into their shells. But...set up a small, informal book club just for the adults to enable them to build up confidence, share their concerns and experience the sheer joy of reading and then send those parents out to share it with the child.

And this is where the brilliant Quick Reads scheme comes in. They commission short novels (by established, big name authors) that are easy to get into taking away that feeling of  intimidation that reluctant readers are often faced with. The books are perfect for little book clubs, ideal for annotating and the accompanying resources (bookmarks, posters) aid that feeling of involvement in a club without the childish feeling of 'school'.

"Get the adult. Get the child." has long been my mantra.

And I'll be shouting it until I'm hoarse.

The Frangipani Hotel: FictionThe Frangipani Hotel: Fiction by Violet Kupersmith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Shamefully, my book shelves are heavy on Western authors and there are huge gaps in my reading list of authors from other parts of the World, so when a collection of short stories based on traditional Vietnamese ghost tales became available on NetGalley I jumped at the chance to broaden my horizons.

Violet Kupersmith's debut novel The Frangipani Hotel is an interesting curate's egg, as the nine tales she recounts go from extremely charming and heartfelt to the downright bizarre and nonsensical. Having no knowledge of her source material it can lead to confusion as to what message Kupersmith is trying to convey, but what she does get across beautifully are her settings and descriptive prose, which at times is mind-blowingly beautiful. There are times in these tales where you really can smell, taste, see or hear exactly what the character does and those shared experiences increase the empathy ten-fold. I've never been to Vietnam, but I can imagine that those who have would read this and know exactly where the character was or what they were eating (food plays a big part across several of the stories).

Unfortunately, it's a shame that the author's ability with speech isn't as natural: there's only one or two of the nine tales where the conversations feel realistic, the rest of the time it comes across as stilted and forced. Because of this, it also weakens the underlying message of young vs old that runs through the stories-is it antipathy towards the elders or the youth we are supposed to feel or sympathy as both come out badly throughout the novel?

Of the nine stories, my personal favourites were Little Brother : a tale thick with atmosphere and genuine terror with a satisfying conclusion and Turning Back a funny, modern take on the transmogrification myth.

Overall, The Frangipani Hotel is an interesting collection and Kupersmith certainly has her strengths. I would be interested in seeing how she develops those into a full length novel.

This book was supplied as an advance review copy ebook via NetGalley in return for an honest review and is in no way indicative of the final print copy.

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Sunday, 2 February 2014

What We've Lost is NothingWhat We've Lost is Nothing by Rachel Louise Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How we react to life-changing events is often a common theme in modern literature these days and more often than not they're huge cataclysmic disasters, so it's nice to come across a novel that pares down the actual event in favour of those lives that are affected.

Rachel Louise Snyder's debut novel does just that.

A Chicago neighbourhood suffers a string of burglaries all on the same day with varying degrees of loss and upset with one family, the McPhersons, suffering more than most and it is Michael, the head of this household, that Snyder utilises to emphasise the nastier side of human nature. Michael's prejudices and paranoia come to the fore as his life slowly disintegrates over the course of 24 hours, especially his relationship with his wife Susan (the liberal voice of the novel) and his teenage daughter Mary-Elizabeth who's desperation to 'belong' leads to tragedy.

Alongside the McPhersons, we have Alicia and Dan, a young couple too dependent on others for their lifestyle and stuck in a very deep rut, a Cambodian family unsure if their lives in America are really what they want, a restaurateur living in denial about his abilities and an almost blind man who sees more than all the other residents combined.

Snyder's characterisation is strong, well-researched and never clich├ęd giving the reader a true empathic relationship with even the most abhorrent characters, and by keeping the narrative to just one day, with chapters split up into times, the novel never gets stodgy. This flow builds up to an exciting last 50 pages that make it very hard to put down. I can imagine that somewhere there's a tv executive looking at this with an eye to turning it into a one-off drama, and I think it would work very well.

Even if, at times, the overt political messages seemed a bit shoe-horned in, this is a brave debut from an exciting voice I'm certainly interested in hearing more from in the next few years.

Disclaimer: This review was based on an advanced review copy supplied by NetGalley in return for an unbiased review

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