Review: Heathen Vol.1 – Natasha Alterici

Heathen Vol. 1 – Natasha Alterici – 3 stars

Heathen

So is Viking mythology cool now, or did it just never go out of style? I’m seeing these tropes all over the place – and loving it. Heathen draws from the raw warrior energy of ancient Scandinavian tales, and it works fantastically. Thanks to Diamond Book Distributors for letting me have a copy!

This is the first Volume of a comic series drawn and written by Natasha Alterici, due to be published on 8 August. The art is beautiful: thoughtful and bold, and perfectly paired with well-written and concise dialogue. I could look at some of these pictures forever.

The protagonist of this story is a lesbian Viking girl who has been kicked out of her village for being different. It’s moving, and great for representation, but I think I wanted to know a bit more about her than just her sexuality. I wanted to meet her father properly, to know how she felt about the loss of her mother, and how she befriended Saga…I think the emission of more rounded character details meant that the story came off as slightly moralistic, which is such a shame because the premise is so wonderful.

It will be interesting to see how the series progresses, as there are some hints towards the Christianisation of the country, as well as a pending showdown with the god Odin. Having said that – it’s definitely the illustrations that will stick in my memory. Three stars for Natasha Alterici – I’m impressed!

If you’ve read this too, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

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Things to Write About When You’re Out of Ideas

We’ve all been there – you’re ready to start wielding your extensive vocabulary and syntactical prowess…and the ideas just stop. The words don’t make sense any more, and you can’t remember how it was ever possible to pull a story out of your barren brains.

First of all, I want to encourage you. This happens to everyone! Writer’s block is temporary. Your beautiful tropical garden of a brain will soon bear inspiration-fruits again, but until then, here are some ideas to tide you over.

1: People-Watch

Go outside, get on public transport, and just observe (in the least creepy way possible.) Who is that man with a moustache like an eyebrow? And does that woman have a…ferret? In her sleeve? Fill in the gaps yourself – where they’re from, where they’re going, what’s they’re deepest darkest secret…

And if all else fails, I suppose you could just ask them.

2: Record your Dreams

Dreams are one of my favourite things to keep track of – not to analyse, but to laugh at at a later date. But dreams can also be amazing writing prompts; no one is as creative as Subconscious You! I have recurring nightmares about octopuses, and that fear of the unknown depths is actually something that feeds into a lot of my stories.

And no stress if your sleeping self isn’t coming up with best-seller material – even just writing down what happened in a coherent way is a great writing exercise, and probably quite good for your psychological health.

3: Write Someone Else’s Story

Disclaimer, I’m not talking about plagiarism here! I’m thinking more of verbal stories (although retelling your country’s traditional stories can be fun too!) – the kind your grandma probably likes to tell. I’m sure your family or friendship group have a wealth of stories that you all love to remind each other of, and that would translate really well into the story you’re working on! Sometimes the funniest literary anecdotes are those derived from a true story.

4: Write Someone Else’s Words

This one’s less creative, but I often find it helpful to choose a page by one of my favourite writers, and just copy it out by hand. It trains you to use words and sentence structures you might not normally use, and just feel the way their words flow when you write them. It’s not about learning to imitate their style, but learning from their strengths and expanding what you know how to write.

5: Re-Write Something Old

If you’ve been writing for a while, you might find it helpful to go back to some of your older work, and see how you can improve on it with all your newfound experience! Rewrite your poems, edit and expand your stories…if nothing new’s coming, it just might be time to revisit an old treasure.

I hope this helps – and do leave a comment if you have any other tips! Also if you’ve had a particularly interesting dream, I’d really like to know about that. Dreams are great.

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

Review: A-List – D.P. Lyle

A-List – D.P. Lyle – 3 stars

A-list.png

This book is a contemporary American murder-mystery novel, and the second in the Jake Longly series. (Thanks to Oceanview Publishing for letting me read a copy!) Here we have a high profile murder with an apparently obvious culprit, and a surprising resolution, speckled with humour, sex and showbiz. And I didn’t really like it.

Let’s do positives first: this is quick and readable, witty at times, and had a satisfactory conclusion. And can I just say, a protagonist who learns self-defence from a book is the most adorable thing.

We can’t talk about ‘A-list’, though, without talking about tautology. This book was repetitive not only semantically (I think jokes need to be delivered as quickly as possible, and NEVER twice) but thematically – the same theories and facts and clues were repeated over and over again throughout the book, to the extent that it wasn’t just unnecessary but patronising. I understand that a mystery without much evidence means everything counts for more, but readers aren’t stupid. We prefer not to have things spelled out to us!

Some of the dialogue was very stilted, and there was no character in particular that stood out to me as particularly rounded, but superficially, the story was interesting, and I didn’t work out who the murderer was until about 70% through.

I think some people will really like this book, and I’m happy for them! But I have to admit that I was very happy to finish with this, and to tend to my craving for a sentence with more than one clause.

If you’ve read this too I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

Dani

Month in Books: June 2017

June was a pretty slow reading month for me, but the books I did get through were very satisfying!

The Plausibility Problem: The Church and Same-sex Attraction – Ed Shaw – 5 stars This is a hard topic to write about well, just because both sides of the argument are so so emotionally charged. Ed Shaw knows his stuff, but most importantly, he is compassionate. This book was full of stories, and I found it so helpful to hear such a reasonable account of same-sex attraction in the context of Christianity.

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton – 4 stars I reviewed this here! This is a beautifully written historical novel set in Amsterdam. Some magic realism vibes, and a lot of love from me. I really enjoyed this story!

A Court of Thrones and Roses – Sarah J Maas – 3 stars This is a YA fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and it is very imaginative! It’s not my favourite Maas book though – something about this fell slightly short of the magic of the original story.

Have you read any of the books I mentioned? What have you been reading this month?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

Review: Lady Mechanika: La Dama de la Muerte – Joe Benitez

Lady Mechanika: La Dama de la Muerte – Joe Benitez – 4 stars

Lady Mechanika

This edition of Lady Mechanika is due to be released on 26th September (thank you Diamond Book Distributors for letting me have a copy!), and it includes all the comics pertaining to Lady Mechanika’s adventures as ‘La Dama de la Muerte’.

This was my first time meeting Lady Mechanika, and although she does seem to have a lot of backstory, this snapshot of her life – as a stand-alone – did a pretty good job of introducing her. There are a few major gaps that I definitely need to know more about (EYES??), but on the whole our protagonist seems like an altruistic – if troubled – badass.

The illustrations in this book are beautiful. I always think you need a certain standard of visual representation if you’re going to deal with El Dia de los Muertes in your story, and ‘La Dama de la Muerte’ nails it. The colour and vibrancy of the art is enchanting, dragging the reader into the more mystical elements of Mexican culture.

The story is interesting and hard to put down, if a little…quick. I suppose it might be different for readers who are already familiar with the characters, but I felt a bit like it was all over before it had started. There’s something to be said for compact story-telling, but this is a little extreme.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my first introduction to this comic franchise, and although I feel like I’m missing out on a lot of back-story elements, I guess that’s probably the point! I gave this collection a four stars, and although I’m not sure I would pay $10 for something this length, I have to admit that this is a pretty fantastic work of storytelling.

If you’ve read this too, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

Beauty and the Beast Adaptations to Look Out For

So we’ve all seen (or at least heard of) the Disney adaptations – animated, a Broadway musical, and now a live action starring Emma Watson – of this classic fairy tale, and it’s one of my favourite stories of all time. What I wanted to do today, though, was list a couple of other interpretations of the story that may have slipped your notice! In no particular order:

Beastly (2011) Shamefully, I haven’t read the book, so I’ll just say a little about the film. This is the modern-day Young Adult movie version of the story, starring Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Mary-Kate Olsen and Neil Patrick Harris. Pretty heavy-handed with its morality, and uncomfortably obvious in soundtrack choices, it is at least a creative twist on the classic story.

A Court of Thrones and Roses – Sarah J Maas I guess I would call this a New Adult Fantasy interpretation; although it sticks reasonably closely to the fairy tale, it’s set in a world with fairies, and I think it works hard to step outside expectations.

The Wrath and the Dawn – Renee Ahdieh Potentially my favourite on this list (find my review here), this is a Young Adult novel set in a sort of Fantasy, Pre-Islamic Middle Eastern world that puts a whole new twist on the story, and that embellishes the core story elements into a whole new fairy tale.

The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter This is a collection of short fairy tale re-tellings, two of which are direct re-tellings of Beauty and the Beast. This book is pretty graphic, and uses fairy tale tropes to discuss feminist and gender issues. Carter certainly doesn’t pull any punches.

The Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux Last but not least, we have The Phantom of the Opera! (I reviewed this here) I watched the musical multiple times before realising the connection with the story, and I think that’s what I like about this gothic Parisian re-telling: it is very liberal with its interpretation.

Those are all of my top picks, but I know there are loads more books based around Beauty and the Beast! Are there any you’d recommend?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

The Wisdom of Hilaire Belloc

So I only recently heard of Hilaire Belloc, but you may recognise some of his more famous quotes! A twentieth century Anglo-French writer, he has such a fantastic way with words, and I was instantly drawn to his sense of humour. All that said, here are some of my favourite Belloc quotes – enjoy!

Any subject can be made interesting, and therefore any subject can be made boring.

(‘A Guide to Boring’, A Conversation with a Cat)

Then let us love one another and laugh. […] Let us suffer absurdities, for this is only to suffer one another.

(The Path to Rome)

The object of a religion or a philosophy is not to make men wealthy or powerful, but to make them, in the last issue, happy: that is, to fulfil their being.

 

It is in the irony of Providence that the more man comes to control the material world about him, the more does he lose control over the effects of his action; and it is when he is remaking the world most speedily that he knows least whither he is driving.

(Survivals and New Arrivals)

All creation must be chaos first

(The Four Men: A Farrago)

And I couldn’t really write a post like this without ending on this utter gem:

When I am dead, I hope it may be said:
‘His sins were scarlet, But his books were read’.

What’s your favourite quote? And which quips and gems have I missed?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

Review: The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton – 4.5 stars

The Miniaturist

I was in a kind of fiction-reading-slump when I picked up this novel, and – no exaggeration – the first paragraph snapped me right out of it. This book is beautifully written, well-crafted both structurally and syntactically, and just thoroughly enchanting.

Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam, the story focuses on the lives of an unusual little household. A wealthy merchant marries a country girl young enough to be his daughter, and she moves in with his prim and religious sister, their nosy maid, African manservant, and two dogs. Although some of the characters may seem like fairly run-of-the-mill story components, it’s the relationships between all of these people that kicks the story into being. The people are three dimensional and complicated, and they are what pulls the plot along at a good pace.

This book is full of twists and turns that I couldn’t have predicted, and the unpredictability – the mystery – is what I think will make this book really memorable for me. This is just a sample of really really good story-telling.

One little thing that did niggle me was the ideology. There are a lot of key issues addressed in some way in this book (no spoilers!), but there were a few times that characters spoke and reasoned about these things in a way that would fit perfectly into our modern society, but that seemed a little anachronistic for their context. I wanted more transition; more space so that a counter-cultural stance isn’t just portrayed as moral integrity, but as something learned, discovered.

Overall though, the setting of this book is magical, and I feel pretty confident in saying that this book will drag you back to 1600’s Netherlands, and you won’t want to tear yourself away.

If you’ve read this book too, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

Review: You Break What Falls – Robert Okaji

You Break What Falls – Robert Okaji – 4 stars

‘You Break What Falls’ is a quick little poetry collection which you can access (for free!) here. It consists of six little poems, and guys – I would suggest it’s worth a look!

Each poem is succinct and thoughtfully crafted, grounded in tangibility, and yet light with abstraction. Although there were points where the philosophy felt a little heavy-handed (especially in ‘In Praise of Rain’), as a whole the collection was delightful to read. I loved the almost haiku-like simplicity of the lines, and the way each poem focused on specificity without running out of things to say.

My particular favourite of the collection was ‘Mirror’ – it was so perfectly contained that it left me wanting to give someone a sincere yet animated high five.

The other thing is, Okaji excels at last lines. Every single on of these poems is rounded off neatly, concisely, and without limiting the breadth of meaning behind the poems.

Have you read through this collection? Which would be your favourite poem?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

Movements: Beat Poets

So I recently watched the Chilean movie ‘No!’ which details the plebiscite in 1980, in which the country overthrew a particularly nasty dictatorship. One thing that really inspired me about the film was the way that media played a huge part in the campaign; people literally ‘used their words’, and completely changed the direction of the country.

I love the idea that literature can be so powerful, so I’m starting a little series of posts under the title of ‘Movements’, talking about literary movements that worked to positively affect their society. Today we’re starting with the Beat Poets!

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking
for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night

-from ‘Howl’ by Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg was an American poet (among many other things) who graduated from Columbia University in the 1940’s. It was at university that he made friends with Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassidy, and William S Bourroughs. These men would all be leading figures in what would come to be known as the ‘Beat Generation’, or the ‘Beat Movement’.

In part, the movement was a response to the end of World War Two, and a protest against the Vietnam War. Most Beat literature was popularised during the 1950’s, and was concerned with criticising a lot of core cultural aspects of America. Its essence was the questioning of the mainstream, and defying the norms of culture and of literature.

Ginsberg wrote:

Since art is merely and ultimately self-expressive, we conclude that the fullest art, the most individual, uninfluenced, unrepressed, uninhibited expression of art is true expression and the true art.

-Source

Although this was never a huge movement in terms of the number of participators, it was highly influencial, and it has been argued that the hippy movement of the 1960’s found its roots in Beat Poetry.

Many writers involved with this movement were also very interested in meditation, Eastern religion, and hallucinogenic drugs; they were looking to reach a higher consciousness, and were not content to remain within the traditions of their society.

Got up and dressed up
and went out & got laid
Then died and got buried
in a coffin in the grave,
Man—
Yet everything is perfect,
Because it is empty,
Because it is perfect
with emptiness,
Because it’s not even happening.

– from ‘Mexico City Blues’ by Jack Kerouac

Is this movement something you’d heard of before? Do you have any favourite poems from this group? And what other movements would you like to see a post about?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani