As someone who can often be seen coming out of the local Waterstones with bags upon bags of books, a very sore bank account and struggling to make it, hardbacks intact, to the car (which resides on the top floor of the largest multi-storey in sight), I thought this tag would be a nice fun way to kick off this blog. Why…oh…why do I do that to myself…so many, many stairs?!
I have seen this floating around YouTube for some time and wanted to get involved, despite not having a channel of my own… at least not yet! The tag consists of a series of questions, to which only a serious book nerd could successfully answer in the affirmative. So, let’s cut to the chase. The answer will probably be “yes” to all, but it will also give me a chance to suggest some great reading, whilst also giving you an initial insight into what books made an impact, which is hard to do these days, after reading so much, so often.
1. Do you have a book with deckled edges?
For those of you who do not know what deckled edges are, these are books where the edges of the pages are roughly cut, feathery and uneven. At one point in time, books with deckled edges were unavoidable, due to previous methods of production, but today, books are occasionally created with these on purpose. Books with deckled edges are hard to come by today, which means many people are often shocked by the appearance of the page edges, jumping to the conclusion that the book is somehow faulty. I assure you that it is intentional and I expect, cost the publishing house additional effort and possibly money to recreate this vintage inspired feature.
Dubliners by James Joyce (Centennial Edition)
When I heard this question, my mind instantly raced to this beautiful centennial edition of James Joyce’s Dubliners, edited by Terence Brown and illustrated beautifully by Roman Muradov. Not only is the cover aesthetically pleasing, with the edges uniquely deckled, but this edition also has the most exquisitely illustrated French flaps. (If you are not well-educated in book lingo, this means that this edition’s soft cover folds out and extends, displaying extra comic-esque illustrations. Think brochures.)
I purchased this book, during my degree, when this was one of the potential set texts and I have no regrets going all out to obtain this special edition. James Joyce is a dominant voice in Irish literature. Set in Dublin (of course), this fictional short story collection spans the experiences of the middle-class families and inhabitants of the early 20th century. With political and social statements galore and centring around the theme of epiphanies, this collection is loaded with gloriously metaphorical tales, spanning a range of ages, beginning with children and progressing to adults, drawing on Joyce’s own experiences of ‘dirty Dublin’.
This was one of the most beautifully crafted and thought-through pieces of literature that I have ever read and is one of those that you could keep returning to, time and time again. You will never lack a sense of discovery. This could be cherished by both amateur reader and academic alike. Although, I never finished the complete collection, as in my degree I was researching into Joyce’s recreation of the infantile experience, it is definitely something I will return to and indulge in, in its entirety, with full force. The stories I did read, I rated 4/5 stars. I believe that one thing I was struck by was that this would probably be appreciated even further by those with insider knowledge of Dublin, which (of course) I have not.
Click link for Goodreads page.
2. Do you have a book with three or more people on the cover?
Paper Girls Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chang, Matthew Wilson & Jared K. Fletcher
For this one, I found myself stuck between various kick-ass graphic novels and comics, many of which seem to have more than two characters on the cover. Comics and graphic novels count, right? (For those who are very picky, there is always Bridget Jones’ Diary, which I rated a solid 4/5 stars and if you need a plot description for this, you must have been hiding under some rock as the films with Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant are a big deal in the West.) However, I decided, in the end, to choose Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, with Matthew Wilson as the Colourist and Jared K. Fletcher in charge of lettering.
Are you a fan of Stranger Things and Back to the Future? Do you wish that there was an all-female alternative? If yes, this is for you! With all the science fiction action, girl power, humour, as well as riveting twists and turns, this beautifully presented comic is now one of my all-time favourites. (When I say beautiful, I mean the artwork is insane and this is one of the most exquisitely decorated comics I have ever laid eyes on. In particular, the colour palette is something you must see for yourself!)
Written prior to the release of the much-loved Stranger Things, this comic does indeed have similar vibes, with a band of 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls becoming wrapped up in an out-of-this-world adventure, the morning after Halloween. With alien invasion, time-travel, mad scientists and interdimensional war, this possesses everything we science fiction fans have been desperately after. On top of that, the characters are wonderfully diverse, despite being written by an all-male and American team (not so diverse and not “own voices”). I rated Volume 1 4/5 stars and Volume 2 an amazing and rarely given 4.5 stars. I am obsessed!
Click link for Goodreads page.
3. Do you have a book based on another fictional story?
After Alice by Gregory Maguire
As can be assumed from the title and cover, this is an Alice in Wonderland re-telling. From the best-selling author of Wicked, Maguire has taken on Carroll’s Alice in this fantastical novel, putting an exciting twist on the original by answering the question ‘what happened while Alice was down the rabbit hole?’.
Switching between 1860s Oxford (England) and Wonderland, this novel follows Alice’s friend, Ada and her pursuit to find her lost companion. Exploring Ada’s own tumble down into Wonderland, after Alice, Maguire stays true to Carroll’s Wonderland, but also puts his own original twist on the well-known and loved tale by adding in the juxtaposition of Oxford, which he then goes on to suggest, equally, makes as little sense as Wonderland. In Oxford, we also find Lydia, Alice’s sister, sparring with her own struggles above ground. Lydia is troubled with her own delusions of romancing abolitionist and friend of Darwin (who does make an appearance), Josiah Winter, as well as with finding the young boy who accompanies them, who also disappears ‘through the looking glass’. The two worlds tumble into equal chaos and Maguire tackles with not only illusions of the mind, but also in our individual faiths. The novel feels as socially and politically loaded as the original and he toys with a sense that reality is where the real horror lies, away from the freedom, liberation and deliverance that the alternate universe presents. Further playing with loss, riddles and imperfect characters, this novel was very impressively written and includes aspects of Carroll’s original that true fans will revel in.
One must note, however, that this is not lightly written and will not be loved by everyone. It has somewhat the consistency of Marmite (as we Brits would say); you will either love it or hate it. It is written verbosely and the linguistics are clearly targeted at an academical audience; the lay person may find the novel heavy, wordy and pretentious. I did not think this detracted from my own experience and it only sufficed to enhance the beauty of this re-telling. After having studied English at a higher level, Maguire’s Wonderland contained wonderfully nostalgic elements of Carroll’s original that others may find unfamiliar and jarring.
This was one of the initial novels that I tackled as I re-explored my love of reading. I rated this 4/5 stars and would consider reading again. Exquisitely written, well-researched and gloriously original, which is hard to achieve when re-telling such an over-saturated storyline. This novel, in my eyes, is largely underrated.
Click link for Goodreads page.
4. Do you have a book with a title 10 or more letters long?
Fathomless by Greig Beck
In opposition to the above, this is my most recent read. This thrilling mash up; one-part Jaws, one-part Jurassic Park, brings together two genres I love; science-fiction and horror. For those of you who are not horror fans, I will persist in saying that the horror is somewhat light and subdued, at least in comparison to other fictional works.
Following biologist Cate Granger and Shark expert, Jack Monroe, the story’s plot line explores the real (but somewhat exaggerated) possibility of what we might find when we open up the lost sub-terranean seas that hide beneath us, as well as what beasts we may unknowingly unleash. Inspired by true accounts of unknown mega-predators emerging from the deep, this novel was very well-researched and satisfactorily rounded. Cate, Jack, along with a team of fellow experts, embark upon a mission that involves Russian assassins, eco-terrorists and a quest to find out what happened to Jim Granger, Cate’s grandfather, when he disappeared mysteriously at ‘Bad Water’, 1950s Alaska. This is the novel I have been waiting for!
Dinosaurs of the land have been done and done again, but the dinosaurs of the sea are very rarely explored; these are just as ferocious and frightening. Centring primarily on the ginormous Carcharodon Megalodon, also known as the “dinosaur shark”, but also encounters with other predators of millennia gone by, this journey to escape the jaws of the trapped perilous sea beneath the ground was fast-paced and highly addictive. It leaves you thinking ‘what if?’.
With a gentle touch of satisfactory light romance woven in, that does not detract from the main plotline, this novel was fantastic, but by no means scot-free. Despite intending to portray the female characters as feminist and strong, I do not think they escaped Beck’s (masculine) own voice and the focal point of female aesthetic beauty, at times, felt uncomfortable. With jargon heavy dialogue, this was perfect for dinosaur and palaeontological super-fans, but may be overwhelming to those just taking the plunge into the genre. That said, I admit this ensured that the novel was immersive and felt legitimate. Beck’s strong suit is action, as these scenes felt almost cinematic, although initial character development could have been further fleshed out. Characters initially felt indistinguishable and my relationship to them began as unemotive. Nevertheless, as the novel developed, the characters did eventually develop into memorable fictional figures.
Overall, Beck has created a slump-busting, action-packed novel par excellence, in a genre currently dominated by literary giants, such as Crichton, asking us the wider question ‘should nature just be left alone?’. I devoured the audiobook, narrated incomparably by Sean Mangan and have already purchased and downloaded the sequel Abyss. 4/5 stars!
Click here for Goodreads page.
5. Do you have a book with a title that starts and ends in the same letter?
The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell
When I began this book, I was struggling to find a piece of literature that was well-written and deeply original, fast-paced and impactful. This collection of short stories from the distinguished Jen Campbell (also famous on YouTube) was all of these things. This was, by a long shot, my favourite book last year. This is now an ultimate favourite and I cannot wait to re-immerse myself into Campbell’s literary world again.
I love Campbell’s reviews and literary taste, so quickly scooped this up from a local Waterstones, having been one of my most-anticipated releases last year and it was everything I expected, plus more.
This fantasia of stories, filled with mythological essence, was brimming with the supernatural and folkloric; from mermaids to ghosts, swan hearts to coffin hotels. Every sentence was loaded with purpose, symbolism and heart-wrenching meaning. A rollercoaster of emotions. The author’s soul painted across the page. A literary euphoria.
It is very rare to find characters and plotlines blossom in this way, in such little space, but here, it has been done. Thus, proving to writers, across the board, that the assumption of ‘impossibility’ (in packing-a-punch in few words) is actually a fallacy. Campbell is a master of her craft. The amount of research and dedication that can be seen throughout every fictional world created. The collection has soul. The balance of whimsy and splendour to just plain eerie and horrific was exemplary. Characters and plotlines were well-differentiated, yet there was a sense of flow as you moved from story to story. No story was poorly written or underwhelming. No symbolic message unclear.
Here, I will also note that I appreciated the representation of queerness and disability in this book, which clearly/possibly had the author’s own real-life experiences stitched into the fiction. Moreover, the experience I had when reading this resonated with the teenage version of myself, cracking into a Tennessee Williams play for the first time. From me, that is extremely high praise. Penultimately, I wrote this into my original review and I will mention it again here; if I am to ever be a published author, this is the standard to which I wish to adhere.
My favourites in the collection were; Animals, Jacob, Margaret and Mary and the End of the World, The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night, Aunt Libby’s Coffin Hotel, Sea Devils, Human Satellites and Bright White Hearts.
This collection, although based on the fictional, speaks volumes about the society we live in and the values we humans keep (and perhaps, in some cases, shouldn’t). I believe there is something here for any lover of fantasy. I will definitely re-read this and the collection has the potential, in the future, to be bumped up to an extremely rare five stars. (Five stars are reserved for those I will read time and time again, also possessing a sense of flawlessness, nostalgia or unmatched emotive resonance.) 4.5 stars out of 5. ‘The Beginning‘ is unparalleled. Bravo!
Click link for Goodreads page.
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