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Tales of the Mist by Laura Suárez

Tales of the Mist by Laura Suárez

I really enjoyed this. It is an anthology of horror shorts based in the Galicia region of Spain. Based on the folktales of the area, we encounter various supernatural terrors, from soul stealing spectres in the woods to supposedly possessed teenagers.

Galicia itself is a character in all the stories. Its landscape and culture have an effect on the actions of all the characters. These tales could not take place anywhere else. The characters in these tales are farmers or working people trying to live everyday lives. That sense of extraordinary things happening to ordinary people makes these tales work even more effectively.

The dialogue and lettering are graceful and eerie. The book is paced wonderfully. Despite being over 100 pages long, I read it in one go. It ratchets up the tension and uneasiness expertly. There are various characters ranging from those confronting the apparitions to those who attempt to flee the things that haunt them.

The art is just lush. Suárez uses a palette of black and whites and grey accents to render a world that is as ominous as it is mundane. The style reminds me of a mix between Isabel Greenberg and Rebecca Green. Suárez does a tremendous job of depicting emotions hidden beneath the surface in the characters’ faces and body language in the book. The art is creepy but never resorts to gore to terrify.

For fans of Emily Carroll, this graphic novel is going to be right up your alley. It is wickedly good. More please!

Thanks Netgalley for the ARC.

The Shadows by Zabus and Hippolyte

The Shadows by Zabus and Hippolyte

The Shadows is a nightmare. It follows an unnamed pair of siblings as they seek safety from murderous Horsemen that attack their village.

As they try to navigate their way to safety in the Other World, they encounter monsters, slavers, people smugglers, and the unfeeling bureaucracy.

The Shadows has scratchy art that belies the heaviness of its story and themes. It looks like a mixture of Quentin Blake and John Burningham. If the characters aren’t weird looking, they are grotesque. There is a Gilliamesque surreal quality to it. Indeed some of the art did remind me of the animation from Monty Python. It is utterly engrossing. The initially curious choice of having the brother and sister wear masks is justified because most of us see migrants as faceless. There are some genuinely impactful panels that hit me right in the gut.

As our protagonists make their way to safety, they encounter the ghosts of those they left behind. These ghosts haunt them. They don’t want to be forgotten. In turns, they provide both guidance and admonishment.

As a refugee story works astonishing well. The Shadows is a sensitive exploration of the terror, anger, hopelessness, and determination felt by those fleeing violence. In a story where we never see some of the main cast faces and is set in the fantasy world, this is some accomplishment. At its core is how there is a lack of compassion for those that need it most. How this lack of empathy leaves them more vulnerable than they should be.

As an allegory for real-world events, The Shadows is as dramatic as it is affecting.

Thank you Netgalley for the ARC.

Million-story City The Undiscovered writings of Marcus Preece: Fiction and Screenplays by Marcus Preece

Million-story City The Undiscovered writings of Marcus Preece: Fiction and Screenplays by Marcus Preece

As a reviewer, it is always challenging knowing how to judge an anthology. Do you rate it by its strongest stories or its weakest? The best approach for me is trying to find the words to express how they made me feel and if any of the writing lingered with me in the days after the final page.

Million Story City is a strange book. It contains short stories, comic strips, musical journalism, and film scripts by the writer and filmmaker Marcus Preece. It would have been easy for it to feel disjointed and confused with such a variety of formats. It never did, though.

In parts, this is down to the way Preece writes. He has an unfussy style that is exceptionally readable. It is also partly due to the recurring themes of perception and memory that form the basis of many of the stories. I would be curious to find out why he choose to tell some of the stories in the format that he did. Unfortunately, due to his passing away, this is impossible.

Coming to the stories themselves, there are some corkers here. The best pieces were the scripts. It is the format that I felt he was at his most comfortable, where he flowed best. Preece has a knack for writing authentic-sounding dialogue and a brilliant ability to pace his stories in his screenplays. The feature-length Everybody’s Happy Nowadays about how one man struggles to cope with how quickly Britain has moved on from the turbulent Thatcher years and how frail memories can devastate one’s self-perception is the jewel in the anthology. It is a terrific screenplay with endearing characters and a snarky punk sense of humour running all the way through it. His adaptation of Diary of a Madman is disturbing and haunting also features tight dialogue and pacing. There is a seam of humour running through all the pieces, even the darker ones.

Of the short stories, The Legend of the Lonesome Cowboy stands out. This, along with Everybody’s Happy Nowadays, are the pieces that settled in my head after I had finished the book. Without wanting to give too much away, there are many parallels between the two stories. The most striking of which to me was how both explored the idea of being able to go home again. The Bad Witch of Bentway was rollicking fun too.

There are weaker pieces in the anthology. Swiftnick creaked along, and I saw the twist coming a mile off. Also, I did not care for his music journalism or his correspondence. I don’t read a lot of poetry, so I am not the best person to judge. Still, my impression is that it was a mixed bag mostly focused on immigration and its politics. Nice enough, but it’s not really my jam.

The comics were delightful. Paul Humphrey’s has nice expressive line work, and the black and white illustrations are quirky. There is much of Preece’s humour in the comics, and like with his other writing, he is not afraid to go to some strange places. The early comics were swamped with too much text, but this got much better as they went on. Mostly they were amusing looks at class and being an outsider. Citizen Kanine and The Immigrant were the picks of the bunch. It is a shame that they did not do more work together as I got a sense they were developing into a really good comic team towards the end.

Overall I am glad to have discovered Preece’s writing. This is not a book I would have chosen to read, but I am glad I did. One of the highest compliments I can pay is that Preece made me think about how I write a bit. His style is confident, unhurried and unconceited. There are a few techniques, such as his economy with words and ideas around identity, that I am going to nick for my own stories. This is a collection of smart, strange, and eclectic stories told by an accomplished writer with a superb ear for dialogue and creating engaging characters. Very, very much worth your time.

BOOK REVIEW: Great Naval Battles of the Twentieth Century: Tsushima, Jutland, Midway By Jean-Yves Delitte and Giuseppe Baiguera

BOOK REVIEW: Great Naval Battles of the Twentieth Century: Tsushima, Jutland, Midway By Jean-Yves Delitte and Giuseppe Baiguera

Reading GNB reminded me of the famous Muhammad Ali quote “The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road; long before I dance under those lights”. One of my favourite parts of GNB was how it explores the decisions made by political and military leaders before the battles themselves. It is often here that the outcome of campaigns is decided.

The writing in GNB is slick and unhurried. There are often shifts of perspective. We see how everyone from sailors to spies to heads of state all react to the world around them. We witness the devastating consequences of their actions on each other. We are given time to care about the characters in each story, which means that the tension builds as you turn the page. Another joy of the book for me was reading about battles that I had not heard of before. I knew nothing about Tsushima and Jutland.

The art in GNB is an exercise in consummate refinement. The battles themselves are the obvious high point. The action is thrilling and easy to follow. The attention to detail meant many of the pages were utterly engrossing. The colouring was a bit too glossy for my tastes, and I felt a grimier look would have benefitted some of the pages. There are some truly gruesome scenes of violence which I felt were undermined slightly because of this. Overall though that is a minor quibble. The quieter slower character moments both before and after the battles were also handled skillfully. One of my favourite moments was the bickering sailors complaining about their superiors in Tsushima. It contrasted nicely with the political intrigue of the conversations between Commander Brunnel and Charles Emile in Japan where neither man wants to give too much away.  

The battles depicted in GNB are gripping and action-packed. The sections exploring the tactics used at sea and strategic decision of those that sent ships off to war are riveting. Highly recommended for both history buffs and those like myself who had little knowledge going in. 

Please consider buying Great Naval Battles of the Twentieth Century: Tsushima, Jutland, Midway with this affiliate link. It won’t cost you any extra and it helps me keep the lights on.

Book Review: The Sad Ghost Club Volume 1 by Lize Meddings

Book Review: The Sad Ghost Club Volume 1 by Lize Meddings

The Sad Ghost Club is both pleasant and charming. It has lovely artwork that absolutely captures the angst that teenagers suffering from anxiety feel. The writing here is perceptive and on point. It balances humour, pathos, and, sweetness exceedingly well. Sam is given to bouts of overthinking which give way to a sense of hopelessness and the self-doubt. Sam cares about his pets, parents, and cares about what people think of him. Socks also suffers from bouts of low feelings, but her experience and way of handling it are different from Sam’s. They are both characters you root for as they are sweet kids trying to do their best. It is a book that left me feeling warm all over. Without sounding too worthy, I think this is an important book. The stresses and strains that the pandemic has caused are likely to cause young people to become more vulnerable to mental illness. The message at the heart of the book is that you are not alone. You have a tribe that understands you. The hard thing sometimes is finding them. I was a shy teenager and grew up into the sort of bloke that you’d very much in the kitchen at parties. I would have very much liked to have read The Sad Ghost Club while I was growing up. It might have made things a bit easier. A lovely book.

Please consider buying The Sad Ghost Club with this affiliate link. It won’t cost you any extra and it helps me keep the lights on.

In: The Graphic Novel by Will McPhail

In: The Graphic Novel by Will McPhail

Thank you to Netgalley for providing an uncorrected proof as an advance review copy. In will be published on 13 May 2021 by Hodder & Stoughton.

It’s quite weird for me to be nervous about writing a review. Yet, I am worried about reviewing In by Will McPhail. That is because I want to do the book justice, it is a novel that I think that everyone should read, one that provided me comfort and joy when I was feeling very low. I know it early in 2021, but I believe In is my book of the year, I’ll be surprised if I read another book this year that touched me the way that In did.

Our protagonist is Nick, a young man who is drifting through life. He is in search of authentic experiences. While not isolated, Nick has family and work colleagues, Nick feels like he is missing out on something. In is about how scary it can be to make a real connection with people. That moment of vulnerability when you open yourself up in the hope that they reciprocate. Much of the book is about Nick failing to make these connections and the frustration he feels about it. It’s about how we can feel isolated even when we are around people all the time.

In is a hilarious book. It has fantastically funny visual gags, and, the dialogue utterly charming. Everything from poncy hipster coffee shops to boring Zoom meetings are skewered by gags that had me laughing out loud. McPhail’s punchlines are often the change in expression on a character’s face. One of the main things I noticed was he draws eyes, it is simple but manages to convey so much emotion.

McPhail’s illustrations, especially when we enter the inner world of people’s minds, is mesmeric. McPhail’s mastery of simple, unfussy lines would be impressive enough, but creating weird and surreal full-colour landscapes full of emotion is just a towering achievement. The book’s layout is brave, with single pages devoted to a single small image, that said the book is sublimely paced. It’s a book the rewards re-reading as you catch subtle jokes that you previously missed out on with background gags.

A bad thing happens in In. I won’t say what it is, but it floored me. I suffered a bereavement recently, and the words that McPhail wrote perfectly captured how I felt in my grief. Comfort and compassion is something we seek from people, and in the stories we read, I didn’t expect to find them here, but I am glad that I did. 

There are weak points in the book as some of the characters are a bit tropey. Wren especially verges on being a manic pixie girl. Overall though the cast of characters is engaging, I felt genuine chemistry between them that lent their relationships with each other a realness.  

In is a hopeful book. For those struggling with isolation or grief, I highly recommend it. It is just about essential reading for anyone looking for something to pick them up. In is exquisitely written, is at points breathtakingly beautiful. A glorious, emotive, and heartwarmingly witty novel. 

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Dryad Vol. 1 by Kurtis Wiebe & Justin Barcelo Osterling

Dryad Vol. 1 by Kurtis Wiebe & Justin Barcelo Osterling

Description:

Best-selling writer Kurtis Wiebe (Rat Queens) and newcomer artist Justin Osterling launch a new fantasy saga! The Glass family has spent thirteen years hiding peacefully in the sleepy forest settlement of Frostbrook where Morgan and Yale planted roots and raised their twins, Griffon and Rana. But secrets never stay hidden, and the entire Glass family find themselves the target of an unearthly attack on Frostbrook. Now on the run from Muse Corp., they must flee to the massive city of Silver’s Bay to hide in plain sight. Rana and Griffon find themselves uprooted and answering for their parents’ mistakes. But, they’ll soon find that the past has a way of finding you, no matter where you run.

Review:

One of my favourite comedians Patrice O’Neal one said lies are brutal. At the heart of Dryad are the lies that parents tell their children to protect them and what happens when the truth is shocking revealed. Dryad has all the ingredients for a superb fantasy comic. Weibe’s characters are charming, well rounded, and, despite the elf ears believable. Something has driven Morgan and Yale to seek refuge in the isolated village of Frostbrook. Morgan and Yale have many lovely character moments centred around the affection they feel for each and how they both struggle with the demands of parenthood differently. Weibe’s dialogue is often witty and for the most part, engaging. Barcelo Osterling’s art is sumptuous. For me, it is somewhat reminiscent of Joe Madureira illustrations in Battlechasers with its thickly inked lines. The battle scenes have are dynamic and easy to follow.  

However, as with a lot of ongoing series, there are problems with pacing. There are obvious big reveals and explanations that are being held back for future issues. This is fine, but in Dryad’s case, there were moments that I felt that this was being done artificially, e.g. we will talk about it later. The other fault I found was that as more and more characters are introduced into our heroes’ lives, I found myself a bit lost as to where everyone’s loyalties lay. A common criticism of fantasy stories is the number of factions and world-building jargon thrown at a reader with the expectation that they remember it. I think this a fair criticism that Dryads was guilty of. This is an enjoyable and diverting read but is not one that lingered with me as the very best fantasy stories do. It is somehow less than the sum of its parts. 

There is a lot to like here, and while Dryad doesn’t quite reach the heights of Montress or Saga, this is a very, very good comic. Wiebe and  Barcelo Osterling have set an impressive stage for what could be comic books next grand fantasy adventure story. 

Book Review: Hardears by Created by Matthew Clarke and Nigel Lynch

Book Review: Hardears by Created by Matthew Clarke and Nigel Lynch

Note: The ARC review copy provided contained incomplete artwork and was of low resolution.

In Hardears Nigel Lynch and Matthew Clarke have created a fantasy world of extraordinary creatures and rich mythos on par with the very best. The decision to use Caribbean folktales as a base to jump off and tell original stories pays off. Often fantasy stories are set in Western European/Medieval settings which made the setting of Jouvert Island all the more unique and engaging. I loved the world of Headers. Everything from the character and creature designs to the world architecture is inventive and fabulous.

There are some intriguing characters in the book. The villainous Mr Harding and the pirates make fantastic foils. Unfortunately, most of the protagonists are two dimensional to the point of being cardboard cutouts. Bolo is bland, and I struggled to care about him or what he did. I found myself only caring if Bolo and his crew succeeded because I wanted Mr Harding to be stopped. The plot itself is basic, which is fine if you have a cast of intriguing and engaging characters who you want to succeed. The richness of the original artistry that makes the rest of the Hardears world contrasts with the deficiency of charisma in the heroes who are supposed to save it.

In the end, Hardears is fine. It is even terrific in parts when the action gets going. It’s worth reading just for the gorgeous artwork alone.

Lynch and Clarke have succeeded in creating a fascinating world. I would love to return to it and read more adventures set in it. Next time, I hope they write a story featuring characters who have the charm and complexity to match the setting in which their fates will unfold.

BOOK REVIEW: Penultimate Quest by Lars Brown

BOOK REVIEW: Penultimate Quest by Lars Brown

I’m really struggling to get my thoughts in order. I am not sure what to make of Penultimate Quest. Overall it was a satisfying reading experience. It is a strange, meandering tale about repeating patterns of behaviour that at one point served a useful purpose but now do more harm than good. The characters were well written, and I personally became very invested in their fates. Frustratingly this is one of those books that I think requires repeated readings to get the most out of it. It certainly makes literary allusions that I didn’t understand, and the plot is somewhat convoluted. It is overlong, but I think that is part of the point.

The dialogue is witty, and the banter between party members is engaging. The page layout and panel composition are masterfully done. The art style took me a while to get used to, but for the type of story this, it works well. Our protagonists are believable, damaged, and, sympathetic even when they are doing things that are hurtful to each other and the world around them.

My criticism is that this is a novel that requires a lot of effort, which given how the book starts caught me off guard. There are middle sections where plot and character progression almost crawls to a stop. If I didn’t have to review it, I might have stopped. I was lost at which direction the story was trying to take me, and there were points where I was frustrated and confused by what the comic was trying to do. I am glad I kept with and finished it but fair warning if you are expecting a light read think again. There are heavy ideas explored here, and Brown often takes the most arduous path to get his points across. The story takes characters off in unexpected tangents that are often delightful but on occasion are tedious.

I have mixed feelings about it. It is undoubtedly a novel that deserves to be read. I enjoyed vast chunks of it. Yet, when it didn’t work for me, it really didn’t work me. It is a thought-provoking and challenging book that stayed in my head for days after I had finished reading. It is the sort of book you want to discuss with other people to find out what they made of it. Lars is a fantastic cartoonist, and Penultimate Quest is a lavish showcase of his storytelling prowess.

The Grémillet Sisters by Giovanni Di Gregorio & Alessandro Barbucci

The Grémillet Sisters by Giovanni Di Gregorio & Alessandro Barbucci

An utterly adorable book. The Gremillet Sisters is a heartwarming story that is told with glorious eye-catching artwork. As a fan of Pixar and Studio Ghibli its lovely to read something that captures the same sense of adventure and emotional heft. Di Gregorio script does not treat the reader like an idiot. This is perhaps a more mature story than the initial impression of the artwork might lead you to believe. There is something here for both children and adults. I really enjoyed the interplay between Sarah, Cassiopeia, and, Lucille. The sibling rivalry as the sisters’ jockey for status and petty annoyances they inflict on each other is played both for laughs and dramatic purposes. There are hints of larger supernatural elements in the world of the story that were handled deftly. The core of themes of the novel though are memories, family secrets, and, what effect that hidden trauma has on loved ones when it is exposed.

Part Goonies with its mystery and detective elements and part My Neighbour Totoro with its fantastical creature designs and exploration of sisterhood deftly manages to blend moments of danger with moments of tenderness.

The dialogue is not as sharp as the art, and that does make me wonder if something was lost in translation. Also, at points, the pace does lag. However, these are minor quibbles Di Gregorio, and Barbuhave created a charming novel with a cast of characters that are memorable and who I, for one, would love to see more of.