Wrapping Up January

Although January did have a lot of downtime for me, I found myself stumped by a few books this month that took me longer to read than they really should have. And what do I do when I get a bit stumped by a book? I break it up with a comic or a graphic novel. So I’m sorry (well, not really) that this month is a bit comic heavy, but that’s just the way the chips have fallen.

Since it would take way too long to talk about all the books I read this month, I really just want to talk about my stand-out favourites. You can check the images down below to check my ratings of all the books I read this month.

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But my favourites! Let’s get back to that.

Of all the comics I read this month, two really impressed me. First off, I have to talk about Giant Days, Volume 1 by John Allison. It follows three friends who are at university and their shenanigans. I loved the characters, I loved the humour, and I just loved the entire tone of this comic. I enjoyed the follow-up volume just as much, and I’m eager to pick up the third!

The second comic that brought a massive smile to my face was Starfire, Volume 1: Welcome Home. I talked a bit about this earlier, so I’m not going to ramble on. But I did love this. It reminded me of all the reasons I fell in love with Starfire as a kid, and I can’t wait to pick up volume two.

In the YA world, I fell a little in love with A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard. I wrote about this here, so I’m not going to talk about this for ages and ages, but I did think this book was really well done. The characters were sweet and relatable, the plot had its cliché moments without making the entire book seem overdone, and there were some really wonderful messages that I think are going to resonate with its readers.

An honourable mention has to go to Middlemarch by George Eliot. I loved this. The characters, their relationships, the writing style… it all came together for me. I’m going to talk a bit more about this is in a later post, so I’m not going to on about it, but believe me when I say that there is a reason why this book is a well loved classic.

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Review: ‘Starfire, Volume 1: Welcome Home’ by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti

I grew up on Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans. Well, I say ‘grew up on’, but it’s not as if my love for it has ever died. And like everyone else on planet Earth, I fell madly in love with Starfire. She was beautiful and feminine. She was quirky and smart. And she was a total badass while being empathetic and kind. Like, what’s not to love?

When I found that they were releasing Starfire, Volume 1: Welcome Home, I was crazy excited. Starfire was going to have her own comic. She wasn’t just going to be that girly-girl Titan or Robin’s love-interest. And while she was never just those things to me, I know that she was for others. For me, this release was an opportunity to take an already well loved character and really build on her as an individual.

I later realised that the same team who worked on the New 52’s Harley Quinn, and I’ll admit I was a little disappointed. I didn’t exactly hate it, but I didn’t love it either. Then I heard a lot people’s really negative reviews, and I became a bit nervous.

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But you know what? This didn’t disappoint me at all. I loved it. I loved the way the team decided to characterise her and I loved the art and I loved the storylines. She was just as quirky as she’d always been and just as caring. And yeah, she totally kicked butt.

I also felt like they did a really good job incorporating elements of her backstory and previous stint as a Teen Titan. It felt natural and I think it would’ve been easy enough for a new fan to pick up on the important facts. At the same time, it wasn’t too formulaic or dreary; an old fan reading through it wouldn’t get bored with an overload of old information.

Sure, they went a little overboard with the sexy element, but hey! It’s Starfire! Hasn’t she always been sexy? To be honest, some of my favourite parts of the volume were Starfire failing to rebuff the males showing an interest in her. Even though it was overdone and basically insane, it also felt a little bit relatable. Doesn’t everyone know the struggle of getting rid of someone who’s just a bit too keen on you?

And yeah, they tried a little too hard to pummel that She’s an alien! She doesn’t know about the Earth’s ways! message home, but that’s always been a prominent part of her character too. It got a little old, but there were moments when her confusion was really funny.

Overall, I was super pleased. I thought it was a fun and nostalgic read. There was humour and action and even a little bit of romance. It was everything I wanted this comic to be, and for that I incredibly grateful to the writers and artists who worked on it.

From what I can tell, the new volume is set to come out pretty dang soon (this month, if some sources are to be believed!). And hell yeah, I’m excited. I can’t wait for Dick Grayson to get involved. I’m a little hesitant about the love triangle I sense brewing, but I’ve always loved Starfire and Robin and I’m thrilled at the prospect of them sharing pages once again.

Let’s Read About English

As some of you will well know, I’m a Linguistics major and I love my degree. And so, it’s no surprise that some of my favourite non-fiction books include those that try to suss out the English language. Last year, I picked up three books that caught my eye…

That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us by Erin Moore was my travel book. Faced with the prospect of spending several hours on trains during a trip to Scandinavia, I bought this to entertain myself.

There are so many great ways to approach the differences between British English and American English. Some are more academic, some are more comedic… I personally adore Separated by a Common Language by Lynne Murphy, who successfully combines both approaches.

For me, That’s Not English fell a little short. Erin Moore talks about her experiences as an American woman living in England, and how she feels this transition essentially forced her to learn an entirely new language. Honestly? It just felt a bit whiny to me. Sure, there are definite differences between BrE and AmE and there are certainly times when speakers of each will get tripped up by the other, but I honestly don’t think the differences are so significant that they should truly and consistently hinder a fluent speaker’s comprehension.

That being said, she does discuss a good few of the differences that are most likely catch people out. So maybe if you’re not aware of any of the differences or feel like you only a know a few, this may be a neat book to pick up.

Spell It Out by David Crystal is such a neat wee book. Seriously, you don’t even have to be obsessed with spelling (…as I’m sure so many of you are) to enjoy this. In this book, David Crystal elegantly balances history and linguistics in an attempt to suss out even the wackiest of English spellings.

That being said, we are talking about spelling. And so, naturally, there were a few moments when the content was a little dry. Though with nice additions of humour and a few fun examples throughout, such dryness never did last long, and I did find myself thoroughly enjoying this book.

It’s a great (and quite short!) read for any of you who have ever looked at an English word and thought: why the hell is it spelt like that?!

Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation by Ammon Shea was more than just a little bit hilarious. This is the book for all the people who are sick of being told that their English is wrong, even though everyone in the room knew exactly what you meant.

Certainly not a stickler for the rules, Ammon Shea illustrates why being pedantic about English and its grammar is a lost cause. English, like all languages, are fluid. Constantly evolving! What’s ungrammatical (oh, the horror!) one day is commonplace the next.

This book has the perfect balance of humour, history and linguistics. Even you’re the kind of a person who has always thought that things like grammar and pronunciation are a bit dull, I do genuinely think you’ll manage to have a few laughs with this book. 110% recommend.

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And there you have it! Three books on the wonders of the English language. Next on my list is one that’s been on my shelf for a while: Q & Eh: Questions and Answers about English with a Kiwi Twist by Laurie Bauer, Dianne Bardsley, Janet Holmes and Paul Warren.

Let me know if you’ve read any exciting books about English and all its mysteries!

Adaptations of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen

I fell in love with the story of Pride and Prejudice long before I finally picked up the book. Recently, I posted about a few adaptations of Sense and Sensibility that I’ve come across in the past couple of years. I soon realised that I’ve also read some pretty cool adaptations of Austen’s most popular novel, Pride and Prejudice.

In 2009, Quirk Books published Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. A parody of the original, this definitely has its humorous moments. For the most part, the humour isn’t really up my alley, but that’s hardly the book’s fault.

To be honest, it is pretty cool. The zombie element makes Elizabeth a little more badass. It also brings nice moments of hilarity to some of the book’s more intense and emotional scenes. So while not my favourite adaptation, there were still bits and bobs that I did really like about this book.

Moving on to a retelling! After the massive success of their YouTube miniseries, Bernie Su and Kate Rorick worked together in 2014 to write a novel adaptation: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet. I absolutely adored the miniseries and was super excited when I saw that they’d released a companion novel.

And they did such a good job! I honestly think that anyone who enjoyed the miniseries is bound to enjoy this. It follows the basic plot of the miniseries, but you get to see a little bit more. It gets a little personal, a little more detailed, a little more exciting. For those of you who haven’t seen the miniseries, it’s essentially a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Lizzie Bennet decides to keep a video diary of sorts for a media project, and all of a sudden her life gets a little bit more interesting.

Overall, a really nice companion piece, although I’m not sure if I would’ve enjoyed it as much had I not been so invested in the miniseries.

The final adaptation I’ve chosen is Stacy King’s Pride and Prejudice. Part of the Manga Classics series, this adaptation tells the classic story in the style of manga (…obviously). And as always, they really nailed it.

The art is beautiful, the characters wonderfully designed. They don’t take too much away from the original story and they always stick pretty close to the original dialogue. It’s such a fun, quick (and aesthetically pleasing!) way to jump back into the wonderful story of Pride and Prejudice. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to re-experience the story but doesn’t have time for a re-read… or even anyone who’s never read it, doesn’t actually want to, but does want to know what the story’s all about (I mean, there has to be a reason everyone on the planet seems to wax poetic about it, doesn’t there?).

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And there are so many more adaptations of Pride and Prejudice out there! Next on my list is Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. It’s part of the Austen Project of which I read the first release, Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope.

But I’m sure there are loads of other great ones available. What are some of your favourites?

Comic Haul: Treating Myself in Adelaide

I recently had the great joy of visiting Adelaide, Australia with my family. While I’m hugely fond of my local comic store, it’s one of very few that I know of in the area. You can only imagine my excitement when one of the first stores I happened upon in Adelaide was filled to the brim with comics, manga and graphic novels.

Needless to say, I did pick up a few. How on earth could I resist a 20% off sale?

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A-Force, Volume 1: Hypertime by G. Willow Wilson
I don’t really know why I was so excited by this release, but I definitely was. I’m excited to be introduced to Singularity and totally love the idea of the group as a whole. I couldn’t help but get my hands on it.

DC Bombshells, Volume 2: Allies by Marguerite Bennett
liked Volume 1: Enlisted, but I wasn’t in love. But it felt like a good start… a good introduction. I have high hopes that this one really amps up the excitement.

Mockingbird, Volume 1: I Can Explain by Chelsea Cain
I had no reason for picking this. Seriously, none. It just jumped out to me on the shelf. And with so many books on that shelf… well, anything being able to jump out at me seemed like an achievement at the time.

Ms. Marvel, Volume 4: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson
I’m a little in love with this series, and with Volume 3: Crushed on its way in the post, I decided to pick this up to save myself the energy of having to do so later.

Ms. Marvel, Volume 5: Super Famous by G. Willow Wilson
…uh. I was saving myself a lot of energy?

Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan
I absolutely adored Saga, Volume 1. I already had Saga, Volume 2 on the way (oh, the miracles of online shopping…) and knew that as soon as I’d read that I’d be dying to pick this one up. I figured I’d beat myself to the punch.

Spider-Woman, Volume 1: Spider-Verse by Dennis Hopeless
What can I say? I’m a fan of Jessica Drew. The cover is totally bad-ass. I’ve heard so many mixed reviews about this one, but we’ll see how we go.

Storm, Volume 2: Bring the Thunder by Greg Pak
I wasn’t super impressed with Volume 1: Make It Rain, but wanted to give the series a second shot. Storm is such a cool character with so much potential… I just didn’t want to regret not following this series up.

Review: ‘A Quiet Kind of Thunder’ by Sara Barnard

I thought that this was going to a quick, easy read. Something that was cute, but too cliché to be interesting or truly enjoyable. I was expecting flat characters and a boring plotline. Really, it’s a miracle I started reading this book at all.

And boy, am I glad I did. A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard follows the story of Steffi, who is a selective mute. Her world changes when Rhys, a deaf boy, joins her class. The only other student able to communicate in BSL, the teachers thrust the two together and they fall in love.

That is a bad and simplistic summary, but I promise you this: it’s totally wonderful. It’s such an incredible and wonderful book about this range of complex and interesting characters.

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Steffi is young. She’s in high school and she has no idea what the hell she’s doing. And this book reminded me just how much I was like that at her age. Hell, I’m still like that. She can’t always bring herself to speak, she has a complicated family life, a best friend who desperately needs her, and severe social anxiety.

I know, I know. It already sounds like a pretty messy story, right? It’s not. Somehow, Sara Barnard has managed to approach all of these issues without making the story feel cluttered or forced. Which is great. Because guess what? People do have all these issues. And more!

Rhys, regardless of the romance aspect, brings Steffi into a whole new world. She’s forced to consider what her muteness means to her – if she’d feel truly herself without it. She thinks about whether she’s constrained by her muteness – if she’ll ever be able go to university, to fulfil her dreams of travelling or be truly independent.

Even though it’s a fairly standard romantic plot, his character and the dreams that the two conjure together, bring about this wonderful development in Steffi. And that totally makes the cheesy romance worth it.

On the cheesy romance… it did also a nice element of growing up to the story. It felt more real. Steffi is head over heels, you know? It’s sweet. You’re rooting for her. You watch her fall into this relationship she never thought she’d be able to have, and it’s nice. You’re there as she has her first kiss and wonders who to ask about sex, and you laugh because that was once you.

I mean, yes, A Quiet Kind of Thunder falls into, like, a thousand YA traps. Two young people fall in love quickly and passionately and their relationship may as well have been pulled from a film. They say things and do things that would never fly in real life. There’s an argument with the best friend who feels neglected. There’s this mini epic travel adventure that’s great before it all goes wrong…

It happens. Books fit their genre. There’s a formula to it, right? So yeah, there was an element of predictability. There were times when it felt all too cliché and not at all like real life. And I didn’t even care. It was still a nice story. Even if I knew it was going to happen, the actual event was so well written that it didn’t matter.

The disabilities themselves are approached in such a considerate manner. Steffi’s anxiety is written in a way that makes you feel along with her. The inclusion of the dialogue that was signed was really well done. I liked how they talked about the different ways Steffi’s family approached her selective muteness, how she felt about her therapist, and the option of medication.

I liked this book a lot and I’ve already recommended it to a few of my friends. It’s bound to be one of my favourite 2017 releases. This book is sweet, but meaningful. Quick and easy and short, but thought-provoking. There isn’t much more you could ask for.

On a side note, I know a lot of you have chosen to complete one of the many challenges promoting reading diverse characters and authors*, and if you have committed to one of those (or are just interested in generally reading about diverse characters), then I’d definitely suggest picking this book up when you can.

* Interested in doing some of these challenges? Although I’ve opted not to partake myself, I think they’re a lovely idea and a great way to push yourself to read consciously. Check out Diversity Bingo, 2017 Diverse Reads Challenge or Read Diverse 2017.

Introduce Yourself to Modern Art

In terms of school subjects, Art History was most certainly my first love. Of all the subjects I was lucky enough to be introduced to, Art History was the only class I was truly excited to attend. And although I never expected it, I fell head over heels for Early Modernism. Modern art (or if it should even be called art) has always been up for debate. It’s also one of those things that has a tendency to mystify people… not everyone really knows what it’s all about.

In Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That, Susie Hodge chooses a number of prominent modern artworks. She gives a brief description of the artist and the context of the piece, then goes on to explain why no child could have created that artwork.

It’s the kind of book that’s supposed to convince modern art’s skeptics of its value and complexity. I can’t say that I was overly impressed by this book.

I just didn’t find it convincing. For each piece, she seems to echo the same sentiment: Sure! In terms of skill, a five year old might be able to do this! But then it wouldn’t be a wonderfully clever commentary on society, would it?

There were moments where she does admit that even in terms of skill, a five year old would not be able to create the artwork. Unfortunately, these moments are the book’s most convincing… which I rather think is hardly the point.

And sure, I get it. Context is important. But it’s not everything. And context isn’t the only reason why some of the chosen artworks are so well known.

Basically, it was a nice book. She wasn’t necessarily wrong about anything. I just don’t think it achieved its purpose. I find it hard to believe that anyone who truly believed that the majority of modern art is child’s play would be otherwise convinced by this book.

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In my opinion, Will Gompertz’ What Are You Looking At? is much more successful and is hands-down what I would recommend to anyone who is hoping to get some insight into the world of modern art. Sure, it’s a little simplistic at times, but it’s meant to be an introduction… and it does that darn well.

Will Gompertz does a phenomenal job introducing people to the key players and philosophies that made modern art. He covers the bigger movements, the more famous artists, and some significant artworks. He does so in an interesting, humorous and convincing manner. Most importantly, all of his explanations are well-written and clear.

Admittedly, I do wish that there had been more pictures of the artworks. Directed at those who are unlikely to know the artworks by name, I would’ve thought that they’d be a nice touch.

That being said, I think this book would make a phenomenal introduction to modern art for those of you who have always been interested, but never known where to start.