Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The 57 Lives Of Alex Wayfare by M.G. Buehrlen

Every publisher is always looking for the 'next big thing', be it a new Hunger Games or Potter the hunt is always on. The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare (Alex Wayfare Series) by M.G. Buehrlen could well be that 'thing'.

Teenager Alex is argumentative, stroppy, the bane of her teacher's lives, and a constant worry to her parents. She knows this though and is often racked with guilt, especially as she feels she could never tell them the reasons why she plays up. For years she has been having visions of past events; be it stuck on a ship feeling sick, to witnessing horrific starvation in Jamestown, all her visions are sensory, realistic and unexplained. When she comes out of these episodes, she's often left with marks from injuries and totally overwhelmed, which goes some way to explaining her behaviour, especially when she's 'zoned out' during school. School is a problem for Alex in a big way. Isolated and unpopular, except with childhood friend Jensen who's attempts at bonding are always met with suspicion and doubt by Alex, she finds solace in the A.V. club where she can hide away with her main passion of fixing things up.

After several smaller visions, Alex has a monumental experience when she blacks out and finds herself right in the middle of 1920's Chicago. Once she's got her head together and checked herself out in a nearby window (Alex's appearance changes each time, sometimes it's just eye colour, other's it's a full body makeover, but still recognisably Alex) she's caught up in a mob hit on a local store. It's here that she meets the man who will change her life forever, 'Blue', but only after they're both involved in a violent fight with gangsters, and Alex discovers abilities she never realised she had.

When she comes around (bruised and with a nasty cut to the back of her head) and runs from class, she finds a flyer with a note on it specifically for her, leading Alex to the mysterious Porter, and finally, the answers she's been looking for. Alex is a descender, created by a research team to travel in time using the 'soulmarks' left in Limbo by Alex's 56 previous lives. Porter has been protecting Alex from Gesh one of the founders of company AIDA, who is now manipulating soulmarks to make him the most powerful man in the World, and totally untouchable, and the novel then follows them as they try to take Gesh down from the inside.

Buehrlen has created a believable sci-fi World that, although the 'taking down the big bad' trope is a well used one, we're allowed to get used to the main characters in Alex's universe before the arc gets complex, which I imagine will start with book 2 as the first novel is left on a crafty cliffhanger. I liked Alex. I know some reviews have called her whiny and spoilt, but I think they miss her guilt and regret, especially over the pain she's causing her parents at a time when they should be caring for her sister with cancer. Her anger and confusion is handled well, as is her inability to trust anyone, and when the truth comes slowly rattling out you can fully understand why.

This is a good solid start to a new YA franchise, and one that could easily appeal to either gender, especially if the male figures are given enough growth and emphasis in the second novel. The narrative is fast-paced, with plenty of action, and although it's a big part of the story arc, any romance is kept to a minimum. Buehrlen handles the time periods well, evoking each with strong detail, without reverting to pages of historical facts, and you really pick up Alex's feelings about each one (her opinions on the 1960's are refreshing).

All-in-all, I'd be happy to pick this series up, as I would imagine, any TV or movie exec will shortly.

This novel was supplied to me via NetGalley as an advance review copy in return for a balanced review.

Read as part of the Clean Sweep Challenge 

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

How I Will Be Spring Cleaning...

...My ARCs.

(Anyone who knows me will know I wasn't talking about on top of  my dusty shelves for goodness sake!)

So, in November of 2013, I discovered NetGalley and I can honestly say my (reading) life changed-the jury is still out on whether my actual life has improved or just collapsed by the wayside.

For the uninitiated, NetGalley is a service that provides readers with advance copies of books, and publishers a way of getting their author's work out into the market with relatively low overheads. All copies are digital, with a large proportion archived just before publication date, and are available either as .pdf downloads or can be sent straight to kindle. Each request is looked at individually (I pity the interns when big names are listed) which is why it's handy to either have an active blog, or to be working either with books or anywhere you can spread the word about a release. Just signing up for free shiz isn't going to cut it I'm afraid.

After signing my life away  up, I went on a bit of a request spree. Once you're approved, the adrenalin kicks in and you're asking for everything and anything. Think those 'fill a bin bag for £1' rummage fairs and you're halfway there.

Unfortunately, I will admit, this has made it very hard to get my approval rating (your request vs feedback given score) anywhere near the preferred 80%. At the time of writing I'm languishing around the 55% mark even though I've given feedback on 95 titles in 5 months. That's about 6 binbags worth I reckon. I need to get above that mystical 80% mark as that's when the 'big boys' of publishing start approving your requests. I'm talking Penguin, Random House among others. Not to decry other publishing houses (especially Scribner, the first ones to 'auto-approve me...mwah...no seriously MWAH!) but once you stop getting the 'denial' emails from those guys, the book world is your oyster.

To make my reading and reviewing life slightly more organised, and to give me a kick up the bum, I've signed up to the Clean Sweep ARC Challenge run by Angela @ Angela's Anxious Life and Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. The aim is to get as many of those ARCs read as possible, while joining others of a similar mindset, with the added incentive of comps and a chat meet-up to spur each other on.

Part of the challenge was to post and give yourself a target, so I'm aiming for 12 minimum, an average of 3 a week. The hardest part will be not requesting any more during the month of May. It's not a requirement of the challenge, rather my own personal goal, which if I manage it, will not only get me closer to the mythical 80% but also leave me like this:

With any luck, it should also lead to increased blog followers which are also handy.

You know, you could always click that groups follow button there ------------------------->

Up a bit. Under the Goodreads widget.

That's the kiddy.


Monday, 28 April 2014

April Review Round Up or: Holidays and Why I've Learnt To Hate Them


A time to relax, kick back and recharge.

Or, in my case (and that of parents the World over) a time where your job as UN peacekeeper, bank teller, and chief cook and bottle washer is amplified ten fold; where time is relative and it certainly doesn't belong to you; where every single piece of electronic equipment seems to have a teen attached to it (even if it's yours and yours alone) and they are doing revision..."God Mum!" Where any opportunity to sit, for half an hour and write anything (let alone something where thoughts need to be collected into a vaguely coherent paragraph or two) is snatched away just as quickly as a wooden sword that's aimed squarely at a four year old's skull.

In other words...Easter. All my best laid plans of books and chocolate waylaid every single day.

All this is leading up to me admitting to being a bad blogger and not getting enough reviews in this month! At least having a houseful for two weeks didn't deter me from actually reading, and thankfully, I had some absolute crackers to take my mind away from several World Wars breaking out in the garden.

First up is The Other Typist by new novelist Suzanne Rindell.

It's prohibition era New York, and young, naive, prudish Rose Baker is making her living as a typist and stenographer in a police precinct on the Lower East Side. Told totally from Rose's perspective and always in the past tense, we hear how Rose was raised in an orphanage by nuns who saw potential in an upstanding and obviously intelligent young girl, and therefore give her greater opportunities than some of the other girls, including good schooling and training at an estate in the country. We're told, in great detail, how all of her experiences have shaped her into the woman she is today, enabling her to cope with the villainous beings that she has to deal with at the station, and the well-meaning (but obviously beneath her) landlady and room-mate who she lodges with.

All of this changes when new girl Odalie arrives on the scene and although Rose is immediately swept away by her glamour and mystery, she's soon questioning her every move and begins to plot how she can get nearer to this mysterious creature.

Where Rindell excels here is that Rose could easily be annoying and predictable, but she is so well fleshed out, with a believable back story, that she is totally relatable as a young woman on her own in a time and place of fast-paced and chaotic change. When her compete opposite Odalie first appears, she is just the right side of the stereotypical vampish femme-fatale; she has an obvious air of mystery about her, but as it's all Rose's POV you're always second guessing her motives.

The Other Typist is a clever, twisty debut full of foreboding atmosphere  that owes a lot to Hitchcock and Fitzgerald (Rindell acknowledges that Gatsby is a huge influence on her work) and it stands out as one of the better 'strong women in the 20's' novels out there.

The Girl With A Clock For A Heart is another debut and another 'it's not all what it seems' thriller. Written by short story writer and reviewer Peter Swanson it wears it's heart on it's sleeve as obviously as The Other Typist, but just falls short of it's subtlety and class.

When I received this as a review copy via Waterstones and publishers Faber and Faber, I knew nothing of it other than it was billed as a noir-ish tale of false identities and working out who you really love and trust and for the most part, Swanson achieves this.

Told over two timelines, The Girl With A Clock For A Heart gives us the story of George, a college student, and the love of his life Audrey. Totally inseparable, the 18 year olds live the idyllic college lifestyle and although Audrey is coy about her past and reluctant to let George visit for the holidays, they leave promising to stay loyal and meet again next term. Except, when George returns, he's told the devastating news that Audrey has taken her own life. Unable to rationalise events, he heads of to Florida and Audrey's family, not only for his sweetheart's funeral, but also to get answers. When he gets there, it's evident by pictures, family reactions and the involvement of the police, that the Audrey who died, was not the girl he'd devoted the last few months to.

Now, many years later, George is an (almost) successful professional in an 'on-again, off-again' relationship, but still haunted by the woman he thought he knew. So when he sees her across a bar, and she's not only sought him out, but is desperate for his help, George finds himself constantly torn between his head telling him to beware and his heart telling him to be loyal. Unfortunately, if you cut George in half, he'd have 'misguided' written all the way through him as none of his decisions are well thought out, leaving him and those around him vulnerable and at risk.

While the novel has some good ideas, none of them are particularly original; Swanson has obviously watched a lot of Hitchcock and read Ellroy, Elmore and Hiaasen but as yet, hasn't managed to pick up any of their style. Thanks to hugely repetitive sections and padded out inconsequential descriptions, the narrative feels padded and stretched. It reads like an extended novella, and when you read the acknowledgements, that's exactly what it is. This really would have been better suited to the Hard Case Crime series where it could be right at home among the novels that inspired it.

After two novels full of twists and double-dealings it was refreshing to then pick up The Free the truly stunning fourth novel by Willy Vlautin. No mysteries, just the interweaving lives of three people and their struggle to just 'get by' or 'get out'.

Leroy was young, happy, loved his sci-fi novels, his mum and his girl Jeanette. That's until he signed up for active duty and was blown away by a roadside device in Iraq. Now he's an invalid in a care home for disabled men, constantly living in a cloudy fug, not truly aware of his surroundings. When he wakes one day and his clarity has returned, the enormous rushing effect on his senses and memory brings him crashing back into reality, and realising he can't continue like this, he attempts to take his own life. It's then he's found by Freddie the nightwatchman and rushed to hospital where he his cared for by Pauline, and we continue to follow all three from this point on.

Pauline is a single, lonely, insomniac who goes from day to day totally dissatisfied with her lot, desperately looking for something other that her job and caring for her depressed dad. Although it's through her work with Leroy that brings her into the novel, it's her attempts to save a young runaway that really gives her the impetus to make a change.

Freddie is broke-seriously broke, thanks to massive hospital bills for his daughter, his marriage is over, relations with his daughters non-existent and he's at risk of losing the home that's been in his family for generations. His job at the care home exhausts him, but the bond he has with the residents is undeniable. The second job he has in the day is thankless with little chance of improvement, so it's no surprise that when an old friend asks him to look after some 'plants' while he's in jail, and there's thousands in it for him, that Freddie jumps at the chance.

Meanwhile, Leroy slips in and out of consciousness, and goes through several operations to save his life. All through this, he's visited by his mum who sits and reads Leroy his favourite sci-fi pulp fiction. These stories, combined with the treatment he's receiving cause Leroy's brain to create an alternate world in his head, where he's reunited with Jeanette and fighting off a military force desperate to hunt them down due to the growing bruise-like mark on Jeanette's foot-a mark that has lead to whole communities being slaughtered.

What's so fabulous about Vlautin's writing is there's no showing off, no giving character's unrealistic speech patterns-the realism is there right from the start, enabling the reader to truly visualise these people and get deeper under their skins. Yes, it sounds bleak, and thanks to Leroy's dreams at times it takes on an almost 'Gilliam-esque' quality (mainly Brazil-especially the theme of escape) but there is always hope and humour to counteract it.

By the end of The Free there is no feeling of 'God that was grim' as I've had from some novels this year, there was a genuine thought of 'Yes! They made it!' and that's all too rare in contemporary lit these days.

I've also finished the amazing The Luminaries but other than adding to what everyone else has said in that it is truly superb, all I can say is, if you plan to make notes...don't bother- not unless you want to do it CSI style and take over a whole wall covered with post-its and red string. I really hope that the forthcoming TV adaptation is long enough to do it justice. Anything shorter than eight hours would be a crime.

Anyway, I've got a TBR pile a mile high and the little blighters have another holiday in three weeks, so I've got to hit those books.

The Free was supplied as a free ARC by NetGalley in return for an unbiased review.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Young Adult Round Up

This week, I've been dipping my toe in the Young Adult pool with three novels exploring the angst-ridden topics of not only loss, grief, and isolation, but also the strong bonds of friendship and loyalty that see us through the dark times. These are quite common themes in YA lit at the moment, mainly due the phenomenal success of The Fault In Our Stars, but the three novels I was sent to review manage to separate themselves from the crowd through strong characterisation, a gruesome period of history, and  heart-breaking realism.

The Dark Inside. Rupert Wallis

 James is a desperately lonely thirteen year old, who's mourning his Mum after her death in a car accident, while at the same time avoiding his violent Step-Dad who makes it clear he wants little to do with him now his Mum has gone. One way he escapes is by hiding out in an abandoned house, and it's here he discovers Webster, beaten, exhausted and on the run. It transpires that Webster is a former soldier on the run from travellers who've had him caged up and on display as one of the attractions at their fair on account of his 'curse', and they intend to get him back at whatever cost. Following a stand-off between Webster and James' step-dad, they set out together to find a cure and what follows is a rich, multi-layered portrayal of two damaged people and their attempts to fix themselves and each other.

 It's this characterisation that really drives The Dark Inside's narrative, with any supernatural element taking second place to the main protagonist's story. At times, this screams 'debut novel': actions repeated by different characters, and too much detail given to menial tasks while back-story is dismissed in a sentence are two of the problems present here, that hopefully will be ironed out in future novels, as Wallis has a definite ability with relationships.


The Blood List. Sarah Naughton

In The Blood List we're transported to 17th century England and a story soaked in fear, mistrust and loyalty, as we follow young Barnaby's transition from boy to man and the responsibilities that come with it. We start the novel with his mother Frances: young, naive and defiant, but ultimately defeated as her beloved Barnaby is believed to be a 'changeling'-swapped by the Fairies-purely because he doesn't act 'right'. Overruled by her husband's family and their nanny, the child is taken to the forest and left for the fairies for them to swap back for the 'real' baby and when the mystical area is checked a far different child is in it's place. From here on in, Frances fights against bonding with this child she knows deep down isn't hers and as we jump forward to the present, it's obvious that the relationship that Barnaby has with his mother is driven by this belief and damaged beyond repair. Soon, we learn that Frances had another child, the creepy, weasley Abel and that is where Frances affections are focused, building up to the archetypal sibling rivalry with Abel being equally jealous of Barnaby's bond with his father and the attention that garners.

 Superstition is still rife in the village with both elderly women and young girls accused of witchcraft, and Barnaby's family come under scrutiny when they hire local girl Naomi as a housemaid. Barnaby is besotted with the wild-haired Naomi since she saved his life, but her cold demeanor means he can never quite get through to her, often finding he's caused offence rather than impressed her. Unfortunately, for me, this relationship didn't quite gel for me and I much prefered Barnaby's moments with the softer, loyal Juliet, who he obviously felt a great affection for, as she did for him. Because of this, it makes later events far harder to believe, but Barnaby's actions take second place to the vivid and gruesome events of the novels second half.
The deeply religious and righteous Abel, having been sent away to join the priesthood before he causes any more trouble, returns to reek havok and take his revenge on not only his brother, but on the village that mocked him. Trouble is, he brings a new acquaintance in the form of a young Matthew Hopkins, the man who would later find fame as the infamous 'Witch Finder General'. After an extremely descriptive 'dunking', suspicion soon falls on both Naomi and Barnaby as Abel's plans come to full effect.

 This really is a book of two halves, and the second is the most preferable. Very little happens in the first half bar a few scene-setting plots, but as this is an extremely quick read, it's not a big deal. Naughton's strength is quite clearly in research and her ability to put that on the page, but I wish the same level of detail was used in regard the relationships, especially between the brothers, and the big jump from baby to young man is part of the problem. We're supposed to believe this intense hatred between them, but are only given a year to experience it.

The Year Of The Rat. Claire Furniss

Sometimes, you come across a novel that just 'gets' you in all the right places, and The Year Of The Rat is one such book. Pearl is fifteen, busy doing all the things fifteen year olds are good at-friends, love, school, getting sassy with her mum- but that all falls apart when her mum Stella dies, at seven months pregnant, leaving her, her step-dad and the new baby Rose. But Pearl can't cope with Rose, knowing that her very existence is why her mum is dead, so refers to her only as 'The Rat', refusing to even visit her in the hospital.
The novel covers a year in Pearl's life since the event and touches every base possible: resentment, unbearable grief, denial, and isolation as Pearl struggles to keep living her life as she feels everyone expects her too. But what debut novelist (and it is seriously hard to believe this is her first) Claire Furniss has achieved here is remarkable, with a level of realism in her characters that I've not seen since early Jacqueline Wilson. These are real people-no cliches, no stunt 'issues' to pad them out (at one point Pearl's gauntness is presumed to be an eating disorder, but she rebukes that straight off-it's grief) just honest depictions of the rubbish that hits us every day. Stella appears to Pearl after she's died, not as an ethereal spirit talking like a motivational poster, but as Stella, complete with her her cigarettes and lighter, often when Pearl least expects it. How Furniss handles this evokes the fabulous Truly Madly Deeply with an especially funny sequence while Pearl is trying to take a shower. You can see Pearl's heart break with every appearance but as time goes on you see her start to question her mum's actions, particularly as to why she had to have another baby and 'ruin it all'.

 As Pearl unravels more and more and her isolation increases, you genuinely worry for her, whether she'll pull through unscathed, but you never question her actions or judge her because she is written so well. This will be one of those YA novels that becomes a hit across the generations as adults and teens alike will be reading this and going "Yep, she's got that right" through most of it. You'll be hard pushed to find a book that deals with the grief process and how hard it is to really 'let go' as The Year Of The Rat, but word of warning, you will need tissues, no matter how hardcore you think you are. This is already in my top ten books of 2014.

All novels were received as digital review copies via NetGalley and publishers Simon and Schuster, in return for an open and honest review and I thank them for the opportunity.

Friday, 21 March 2014


A few weeks ago, I reviewed some great and not-so-great New 52 graphic novels from DC and this second chunk are just as much of a mixed bag.

Beginning with the long-winded but intricate Green Arrow, Vol 4: The Kill Machine it's obvious that DC are desperate to win back readers and fans by bringing in big names (in this case award-winning Jeff Lemire) to either kick a story line into touch or launch a complete re-boot, and as witnessed so far, sometimes this works and then, it kind of doesn't. Volume 4 of New 52 Green Arrow is somewhere in the middle and although it does follow on from a previous story it's a good issue to pick up for the casual reader as backstory is filled in where necessary and there's no deeply intricate old lore thrown around.

The plot starts of quite simply, with Queen's empire under attack from the mysterious archer Komodo who's hitting Oliver where it hurts; money, hideout and friends are all lost to him within the first few pages and from there it's a case of finding the truth by any means possible, at times with great risks to others as well as himself. Queen's investigations lead him back to the island where he became Arrow and thanks to his 'guide' Magus he discovers more about his father and the mythology behind the 'Clan of the Arrows'. It's the second part of the story that really cements this history with the introduction of new villain Count Vertigo and the 'Outsiders' the origin of the 'Clan'. While the storyline can drag on, the art redeems it ten-fold. The use of panel-in-panel cut-outs (usually black and white) to emphasis points of damage during fights is a good one and some of the one panels are full of depth.

If DC keep hiring the team of Lemire and Sorrentino, then Green Arrow may well achieve the same level of popularity in print form as it has on tv.


How many times do we need a Batman origin story? Well D.C. obviously thinks we need one more and have released  Batman, Vol. 4: Zero Year a truly stunning tale from 'man-of-the-moment' Scott Snyder. I've adored Snyder's American Vampire saga for an age and his work here is equally as good, if not better.
Unfortunately, going any further into the story other than the fact we see the birth of the Bat and a very stubborn Bruce Wayne arguing the toss every step of the way, would ruin the surprises that are in store when you read this.
Suffice to say, if you're a Bat fan, then grab this asap.


Unfortunately, for every Batman, there's an Aquaman...I'll be honest with you, not the biggest Aquaman fan, always found him inconsequential and he added little to the Justice League setup for me. But, a galley came up for review, and as they say it was "free to get in!" Would Aquaman, Vol. 4: Death of a King  make me change my mind?


Like some of the other Volume 4 editions, this is a continuing story-line, but whereas Wonder Woman and Green Arrow are coherent and utilise conversations and scene setting to fill the gaps, Death of a King is a rambling mess, often throwing in flash forwards to drive the narrative.
It's all kicking off under the sea an on top of it as The Scavenger is chasing an Atlantean weapon that'll do untold damage to the planet, Orm, (Aquaman's brother) is in a prison on dry land and suffering a serious case of the 'Emo', while down in the depths, there's a trio of warriors with divided loyalties and a pissed off former King who wants it all back. Throw in the ubiquitous and heavy-handed 'green' messages and what you get is just under 200 pages of eye rolling and "Wha?" moments. Unfortunately, there's not even any eye-catching art to take away from the mess of the story.


Now this is where the 'crazy' comes in, as the writer of Aquaman is also responsible for the fab Justice League, Vol 4: The Grid, an epic, battle strewn tale full of twists, that grabs you and very rarely, lets go.
All the usual League boxes are ticked perfectly: Batman's moody, Diana and Supes are loved-up and taking the moral high-ground while Cyborg is creating things that you know full well are going to backfire horribly. Throw in an appearance from fan fave Martian Manhunter, three new members (Atom, Firestorm and Element Girl-at first they feel superfluous, but eventually they gel perfectly) and a little Shazam and it feels like you're reading Saturday morning tv.

Whereas Aquaman felt jumbled and all over the place, The Grid is tight, fast flowing and never feels convoluted, even when throwing in ancient mythology in the form of Pandora and her well-known box of tricks. The artwork is well-defined and tight, with the Shazam section being particularly impressive, especially in the battles with Black Adam.

Overall, this was a corker that, much like Green Lantern, made me want to track down the previous issues and pre-order the next lot.


All issues were supplied as digital review copies via NetGalley and DC Comics in return for a fair review.

Friday, 7 March 2014

The Good, the Average and Aquaman: A weekend with DC's latest 'New 52' novels. Pt 1.

Over the last few days, DC publishing have sent out galleys of their latest New 52 runs and I was lucky enough to be given seven of them to review. A tiny confession first though: while I enthusiastically embraced DC's New 52 launch originally, I kind of fell by the wayside due to real life, and lost track of issues, story-lines and my impetus to get back into them, especially considering the unfavourable reviews.
But, when they offer you review copies, who am I to say no? Thankfully, of the seven sent out, one is a totally new launch and three are almost reboots, so prior knowledge isn't a pre-requisite to enjoy these latest offerings. Also, it's handy having the novels written by such an accomplished team that even if you are coming in half way, you not overly 'lost' as the dialogue fills you in quickly enough.
So, I spent a merry couple of days surrounded by post-its and superheroes in an attempt to a) not get lost among the threads b) make sure I had reference points to do background checks and c) encourage my OCD-like obsession with note-taking and not messing up my journal.
No..you shush.

First up is the stand-a-lone launch of Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell the latest from Paul Dini and artist Joe Quinones. A year has passed since Canary's failed attempts to stop a major Vegas heist and the subsequent death of gangleader Tina, yet suddenly the other members of the gang start dying, all taking their own lives in bizarre ways. Black Canary turns to her old friend Zatanna for help, creating a vibrant, powerful and funny team. Dini has always been able to write powerful women well, and Bloodspell is no exception. Whether it's highlighting their past exploits (young Zatanna's training is a stand out here) or their current case, the narrative never loses pace and Quinones' stunning art is a fine accompaniment. Zingy and sassy, this is great launch title for the casual DC fan, but with plenty of nods to previous New52 books for the fans.


From the proudly camp tight-wearing duo I went to a woman who if you ever referred to her as 'camp' you'd still be travelling: Wonder Woman, Vol. 4: War and to be honest that should probably be written as "WAR!!" in as angsty and threatening tone as possible. Not going to lie, this one was hard work to come into half way. A battle of immense proportion has obviously just occurred, and we join her Ladyship and her cohorts in the aftermath. I'd heard rumours of Diana's 're-imagining' as a daughter of Zeus, and I'm not overly sure I buy it. Naturally, her playmates are the likes of War, Hera etc who have been given an 'edgy' look far removed from your regular 'Clash of the Titans' affair.
Everyone is desperate to protect baby Zeke, a child of prophecy, from the evil 'First Born' and along the way we are treated to deaths, twists, more deaths, a lot of arguing and the inevitable big battles. While the art is at times amazing, the confusing voice overs can mean you lose track, and although there are odd moments where the reader is 'filled in' on past events, it all makes for an incoherent volume. A cliffhanger ending would make me consider coming back to the series, but only after I've grabbed issues 1-3 first.


After the draining WW saga, it was a relief to then get to Green Lantern, Vol.4: Dark Days a new chapter in the Corps history from Venditti and Tan. Now, I can take or leave the Green Lantern, but I appreciate it's huge mythology and the impact it has on it's fans (trust me, as the mum of a teenage boy who was the only audience member for the last movie, on it's opening day, I really understand their pain) so I was looking forward to getting stuck into this one. To put it mildly, after volume 4 I'm now ready to get every previous volume of this saga and devour them in one go.

Jordan and Stewart are trying to get the corps back together after previous events, but are hampered by the power starting to drain from  lanterns everywhere. Putting personal conflicts aside (there's a particularly impressive fight between Hal Jordan and Star Sapphire Nol-Anj) all the corps band together to preserve their energy sources. One of the most impressive aspects to this edition is the backstory of main antagonist 'Relic' and his place in the universe, while also expanding on the history of the Lanterns.
An amazing 'relaunch' story, and impressive, striking art, all combine to create possibly the best of this group of volumes and it's impossible to delve any deeper into the story without spoiling it. This is one that I will be following with interest, especially after the cliffhanger ending.


Still to come: the birth of Batman, a wibbly wobbly Arrow, the Justice League goes off the grid and yeah...Aquaman...

Monday, 3 March 2014

Review: Byron Easy

Byron Easy
Byron Easy by Jude Cook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's Christmas eve, on the dawn of the Millennium, and cynical, self-loathing, lonely, and depressed Byron Easy is taking an arduous train journey from London to Leeds to visit his mother. Thankfully, it's not that arduous for the reader as we are treated to a new refreshing and enlightening male voice in the form of debut novelist Jude Cook's messed-up protagonist.

As we join Byron, it's obvious that he's just come out of a very difficult and volatile relationship, and as we progress we get more of an insight into Mandy, the beauty with a very dark side. Alongside Byron's recollections about Mandy we get a full run down of his past; his many jobs, friendships and the loves that got away are all given the wannabe poets treatment and very rarely do any of them come away smelling of roses. Where Byron's memories are most evocative (and Cook's writing at it's best) is in the chapters covering his childhood and early home life. It's obvious from the outset that Byron has serious self-esteem issues, which over the course of time has an effect on all of his relationships, and it's in the chapter 'Home' that we start to see the root of these issues.

Very rarely does Byron refer to his parents as 'mum and dad', much preferring first name terms, nicely underlining the detachment that he feels from these people for whom there is an obvious mutual love, but a complete inability to show it. Cook gives Byron a beautifully evocative and understated voice for this chapter, which for once doesn't overpower the narrative, instead choosing to let Byron's memories (and possibly those of the reader) drive the story forward.

This simpler narrative is a welcome break from Byron's dips into his notebook where he takes on the voice of his namesake while recording either what he experiences on his journey or recalls from his past journal entries, and it's this 'recounting' where I occasionally came unstuck with the novel. For a novel that touches (brilliantly I may add) on the male image, depression, self-worth and the place of the 'self-aware man' in society, being regularly told 'something worse is coming' caused the book to be closed and not opened for a day or two. It's certainly not a novel that can be read in one go-you will need a break, especially towards the last third, a section which should possibly come with a trigger warning as events unfold in a graphic and heartbreaking manner.

Whilst sometimes infuriating, it's obvious that Jude Cook is a talented writer and definitely one to watch for the future and he should be applauded for writing about depression and abuse from a male perspective, something that is seriously lacking from mainstream literature.

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