Friday, 17 September 2021

5 Books That Need A TV Show

 

Originally published on Set The Tape


Television series based on books have always been popular, from children’s series like The Worst Witch and The Animals of Farthing Wood, to teen shows like The Vampire Diaries and Shadow and Bone, and the adult oriented Game of Thrones and Dexter. Some of the biggest and best shows around have begun life as books, and with so many amazing book series around it’s hard to know where to begin looking for the next potential series. Well, here’s a list of five books that definitely deserve a show.



Skulduggery Pleasant

Written by Irish author Derek Landy, Skulduggery Pleasant follows eleven year old Stephanie Edgley after she inherits a huge house from her recently deceased uncle. When checking out the house she comes under attack by mysterious assailants and is rescued by an old friend of her uncle’s, Skulduggery Pleasant the skeleton detective.

This introduces Stephanie to the world of magic and monsters, and she discovers a whole secret world hidden beneath our own. Not only that, she learns that she too could harness magical abilities, and taking on the name Valkyrie Cain she convinces Skulduggery to train her to be his partner.

The Skulduggery Pleasant series is an absolutely amazing set of books, and one that I completely adore. Much like other middle-grade magic series the books see Valkyrie grow up and mature with each new book, and the adventures that she gets into get more adult in nature, with some pretty nasty villains and some brutal battles thrown into the mix.

With a more action adventure tone than other books in this genre, and a cast of amazing characters, it would make an amazing series, especially now that technology has moved to the point where it would be possible to bring the titular living skeleton to life in a realistic way.



Gone

Created by Michael Grant, the Gone series is set in the fictional Califonia town of Perdido Beach. One day the kids of the town wake up to discover that everyone over the age of fifteen has mysteriously vanished. If that wasn’t bad enough the town seems to be trapped inside an odd barrier, one that burns anyone who tries to pass through it or touch it.

With the kids of the town stuck and alone they must work together to not only survive, but to try to find answers; something that becomes even harder when many of the kids start to develop strange abilities, and a mysterious creature appears and starts hunting people down.

The Gone series is a really intense young adult series that focuses on Sam Temple, a teen who develops the power to create light from his hands, and his struggles to bring the various kids together. He has to take charge in what is essentially a survival situation. The fact that we get various factions beginning to form within those left in Perdido Beach, mysteries to solve, and a few creatures thrown into the mix, it’s a series that feels like the super powered teenage version of Lost.



Shades of Magic

The Shades of Magic series is a trilogy of books, and a series of prequel comics, from acclaimed author Victoria ‘V.E.’ Schwab, and follows the lives of several magically powered individuals across different realities. The books centre on Kell, a magician with the rare ability to travel between the different Londons, Red, White, Grey, and Black.

These worlds are vastly different from each other, from Red London where magic rules supreme, to White London where magic doesn’t exist, to Black London, which was so consumed by magic that it is believed long destroyed. When Kell gets drawn into a scheme that could bring ruin to Red London he travels between the various worlds to try to stop disaster, picking allies and enemies along the way.

One of the things that makes the Shades of Magic series stand out is the wonderfully imaginative worlds that Schwab has managed to create, ones that are similar to our own and others that are vastly different. Along with some distinct and hugely interesting characters and some amazing action it’s a story that would look amazing on the screen, and would definitely wow any fantasy fan; as well as being able to draw in new viewers with its distinct style. With Schwab being a popular author, it’s shocking there’s not been an adaptation of her work yet.



The Demonata

Officially a ‘children’s’ series, The Demonata by Darren Shan might have one of the most messed up beginnings I’ve ever read, with an event that puts one of our protagonists in a psychiatric ward for months.

When Grubbitsch ‘Grubbs’ Grady is supposed to be out for the night but comes home early he discovers that his family have been brutally ripped to pieces by the demon Lord Loss. After spending months catatonic he’s eventually taken in by his uncle, Dervish, who goes on to reveal to Grubbs that not only are demons real, and that there’s a secret war going on, but that their family has been cursed – a curse that will see Grubbs facing Lord Loss once again.

With an incredibly dark story that features a number of protagonists from across the centuries, The Demonata series is a shocking YA series for sure, one that really pushes the boundaries of horror and introduces some incredible concepts. It’s a series that could be toned down a bit in order to make it less graphic and be a teen or children’s show, but if you kept the brutal and bloody nature of the books it would definitely appeal to adults, and might even give Game of Thrones a run for shocking and vicious moments.



Loveless

Loveless by Alice Oseman is one of my favourite books from 2020, and whilst it wouldn’t make for a long running show I think it would certainly make a wonderful limited series. The story follows Georgia, a teen who’s obsessed with fan fiction, love, and romance, yet has never been kissed herself.

Having convinced herself that she’s just not found the right person yet she heads off to start a new chapter of her life at Durham University with her best friends Pip and Jason. Despite the extra opportunities to experience romance at uni Georgia is still struggling; until she begins to discovers the terms asexual and aromantic at the uni Pride club, and starts to think that maybe these might apply to her.

Alice Oseman is a writer who’s become extremely popular thanks to her YA romance books, particularly ones that deal with queer characters. Whilst there’s more and more queer rep on screen, asexuality and aromanticism are two things that are hardly ever explored. Ace folks tend to be ignored, overlooked, or even told that they’re wrong in their identities because a lot of people refuse to believe that asexulaity exists.

Loveless not only shines a light on this part of the queer community, but does so in a wonderfully sweet and understanding way, and teaches people that you don’t need romance to love people, and friendships can be magical parts of your life. With no need for special effects or big set pieces it’d make for a relatively easy book to adapt.


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Thursday, 16 September 2021

The City of Doctor Moreau by J.S. Barnes - Book Review

 


'The island was just the beginning...

'In H G Wells' 1896 novel The Island of Dr Moreau a shipwrecked traveller finds himself alone on an island ruled by a mad doctor and inhabited by creatures who are at once both beast and human. He escapes to civilisation only after the scientist is dead and the beast-men have taken absolute control. Yet this is not the end of the matter. The peoples of the island are not done with humanity. Now the conflict between the two has begun in earnest.

'The City of Dr Moreau presents a sprawling history of the islanders, and an alternative vision of our own times. Spanning more than a century, criss-crossing across numerous places and many lives, we witness the growth of Moreau's legacy, from gothic experiments to an event which changes the world. From the wharves of Victorian London to a boarding house with an inhuman resident, to an assassin on a twentieth-century train ordered to kill the one man who knows the truth to a diplomat whose mission to parley with beast-men will surely be her last, we follow secret skirmishes and hidden plots which emerge, eventually and violently, into the open.'

J.S. Barnes is no stranger to writing follow-ups to Victorian era fiction, Dracula's Child, also published through Titan Books last year, was an interesting and creative expansion upon Stoker's original work in a way that felt true to the original yet completely its own. Barnes is trying to do that again here with The City of Doctor Moreau, a companion piece to H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr Moreau.

Unlike with Dracula's Child I came to this book completely fresh, having never read the original work. As such, I don't know how well Barnes manages to recreate the writing style of Wells (something he did brilliantly with Stoker's writing); but it's easy to see how this book has a very different kind of voice to his other work, and very much feels like fiction from more than a century ago.

The book follows a number of different characters, across an ever expanding timeline as Barnes decides to focus on the world around Moreau, rather than simply trying to create what people would normally expect from a sequel. The story begins before the events of the original book, where we're introduced to several characters that will make multiple appearances across the narrative. This first time frame gives readers an insight into what led Doctor Moreau to leave his native home of London for his island home, shedding some light onto the characters past.

From here the book moves forward in time to a point that's almost running parallel to the original story, before jumping further forward to take place following the events of the book. This is really where the majority of the book takes place, as it explores the possibilities of what happened to the island and its inhabitants once the original tale had come to a close.

What's perhaps most interesting about the book and the way it's structured, however, is that it rarely focuses on the main events in its timeline. Instead, the book follows characters that are on the periphery of things, people who only discover some big event has happened after the fact. For example, we never see the inhabitants of the island taken away from their home directly, but we learn of it. We also don't see the construction or running of the titular city, but are there just after the revolution that takes place there. Barnes allows the reader to discover these major moments through outsiders looking in, much in the same way that most people learn about major events in the real world. We don't get to be a part of the revolutions, nor do we see the meetings that take place behind closed doors, but we do see the ripples these moments cause.

It's an interesting way to frame the book, and it's one that I'm not sure I've seen in other novels like this. Having been used to following characters that are the protagonists of their stories it feels unusual to have a book structured this way, though it proves to be an intriguing and entertaining way to learn about the world that Barnes is crafting here; using Wells' original work as a foundation.

As someone who hadn't read the original story I found this is be a great introduction to it. I learnt about the book, the characters, and their world without it ever feeling like it was required reading; or that the story was being spoilt for me. It was an imaginative and engaging tale that I'd have loved to have seen more of, to have spent more time with the characters to the point where I was a little sad to see it all come to an end.


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Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Dark Things I Adore by Katie Lattari - Blog Tour & Interview

 


'Three campfire secrets. Two witnesses. One dead in the trees. And the woman, thirty years later, bent on making the guilty finally pay.

'1988. A group of outcasts gather at a small, prestigious arts camp nestled in the Maine woods. They're the painters: bright, hopeful, teeming with potential. But secrets and dark ambitions rise like smoke from a campfire, and the truths they tell will come back to haunt them in ways more deadly than they dreamed.

'2018. Esteemed art professor Max Durant arrives at his protégé's remote home to view her graduate thesis collection. He knows Audra is beautiful and brilliant. He knows being invited into her private world is a rare gift. But he doesn't know that Audra has engineered every aspect of their weekend together. Every detail, every conversation. Audra has woven the perfect web.

'Only Audra knows what happened that summer in 1988. Max's secret, and the dark things that followed. And even though it won't be easy, Audra knows someone must pay.'

Dark Things I Adore is not an easy book to summarise, there are multiple narrators, multiple time frames, and even multiple formats as we get extracts from documents and small, almost disjointed notes thrown into the book. Despite the complexity the book seems to have at first glance it's kind of simple in one regard; it's a story about obsession.

The story is split across two ties. In 1988 we learn about the Lupine Valley Arts Collective, a retreat for artists and creatives nestled deep in the woods of Maine. This part of the story is told from the point of view of Juniper, one the artists attending the retreat as a tutor for the season. Juniper, whose real name isn't revealed through these segments of the book, gets to know several other artists attending the retreat, and forms a small group of close friends; alongside two of the staff, Mantis, the chef, and Coral, the cleaner.

These friends, united by their love of art, brought together by the man who created Lupine Valley, who has given them all nature themed names, begin to form a strong bond over the summer. One of these bonds is between a young artist called Moss, who begins to form a relationship with Coral that could be seen as toxic. Taking the young artist under his wing, he seems to become obsessed with her, uses her depression and mood swings to help inspire his own art. Juniper is worried about what might be happening between the two of them, but this is just the start of the drama at Lupine Valley, a drama that will end in tragedy.

Thirty years later, in the summer of 2018, we follow Audra, a young artist working her way through art college, and her tutor, Max. Max has been a big name in the art world in the past, a respected man, but also one who has a reputation for broken relationships, and affairs with his students. Max has come up to Audra's home in Maine for the weekend to look over her thesis project, and possibly, he hopes, to make their relationship a sexual one.

Audra, on the other hand, has other plans for Max. Having spent years crafting things perfectly for him, having planned out every detail of their weekend, having decorated and filled the house with specific items in order to mess with his head. You see, Audra knows a dark secret from Ma's past; and she's determined to make him pay.

The two stories in Dark Things I Adore weave in and out of each other over the course of the narrative, though the sections pertaining to 1988 do take up more room in the book. The two stories play into each other well, and each slowly helps to add more context to the other. There are times where something happens in one time, and we get hints at an explanation in the other. I think Katie Lattari plays a very careful game across the book, and even though I began to predict where the story was going around half way through this wasn't because she gave too much away, and she was still able to create an engaging narrative despite the motivations of Audra being more apparent.

It became clear in a general sense why Audra was doing what she was doing, I understood that she had a dark design playing out in order to get even with Max, but this didn't make the story feel any less suspenseful or tense. If anything it heightened my desire to read more. I wanted to know the small details. I wanted to see every aspect of what happened in the past to play out, not just for the added context it would bring to things, but because I had come to care for these characters, because I wanted to see what happened to their relationships and how it all ended for them.

Lattari was able to create some wonderfully engaging characters, and the reason for this is because almost everyone in the book was flawed. I'd be hard pressed to say anyone in the story was a good person, everyone does something bad at one point or another, and even the 'good' characters have something that will weigh upon them once all is said and done. The book raises interesting ideas over right and wrong, and if certain actions can be absolved if you try to justify them enough.

But like I said earlier in the review, the one theme that really jumped out at me is obsession. In the 1988 timeline the people who come to Lupine Valley do so to pursue their art, their passion. But even in this environment there are those who's passions go too far ad become an obsession. Moss, who not only finds a woman who inspires him to create beautiful art, but becomes obsessed with her. He begins to whisper in her ear, he starts to influence her actions, shape her as a person, and drives her to incredibly destructive places because she ceases to be a person to him, instead becoming the focus of his obsession to create the perfect art.

Coral, despite being a victim to Moss' obsession is also dealing with it herself. She comes to Lupine Valley not as an artist, but as a member of staff. Yet she was drawn to the job not because of a need for money, but because she wishes to learn how to create art herself. Over the course of the book we see her neglect her duties, to the point where she's basically no longer doing her job, simply so that she can spend time with the artists, learning from them, listening to them, and trying to be one of them. Even her artwork becomes hyper focused in one area, as she draws birds over and over again. It's through her obsession, and Moss' obsession with her, that her undoing ultimately happens.

In the 2018 setting obsession if rife too, with Audra having spent years building herself up to taking down Max. She's gone to some extreme lengths to do it too; she's changed her name, she's applied to certain schools, she's designed the contents of her house, and the woods around her home to elicit certain responses in him. Her goal becomes her obsession, to the point where it's hard to know where she will go and who she will become once the book is over. She's so obsessed with making Max pay that it seems like she's put little thought into who she's going to be once she's achieved her goals.

As the title of the book suggests, Dark Things I Adore deals with some dark themes, and there are times where the story tackles some heavy subjects. But, it always seems to be done with care, and it doesn't condemn or vilify mental health issues, and it doesn't glorify abuse. Katie Lattari manages to take topics that sometimes feels off limits and crafts a layered and engaging story with them, one that is more complex then I was expecting; and one that I'm going to be recommending for a long time.


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Your book deals with some pretty dark themes, as the title suggests. Did you find it difficult to write the book and balance out the darkness the story has?

There were certainly moments in the book that were difficult to write; troubling, toxic, and violent things happen to people in Dark Things I Adore. But most of those dark moments weren’t pre-planned, they weren’t the goal. As the story developed and the arc of the book started to emerge, the dark elements that seemed to be required revealed themselves. And so the heavy stuff came about sort of organically and holistically. If that happens, then I think it would have to happen this way, etc. My hope is that the darkness feels “earned” – that the factors surrounding the difficult parts feel like they come out of real, human instincts and imperfections, and that this helps to balance out how we get to those moments. 


Art is an important part of Dark Things I Adore, was it hard to translate the images you had in your head about what the pieces of art featured in the story into a purely written medium?

It was definitely an interesting challenge! But one I felt from the outset was worthwhile. I knew I couldn’t necessarily articulate the full, true experience of what it’s like to visually take in a painting, but I thought I might be able to approximate visual atmospheres, vibes, this sort of thing. So that’s what I aimed for. I also have a touch of synthesthesia, which is where sometimes one sensory channel gets mixed up with another sensory channel. To me some voices “sound” like lemon, or like smoked salami. The feeling of bitingly cold air conjures images of small, crystalline triangles jostling against my face with their little points. So, in some ways, I think that really helped me. 


Are there any artists or work that inspired Audra’s paintings, or was it more dictated by what the story laid out?

Mostly Audra’s paintings were inspired, content-wise, by what the story had to tackle. But in my mind’s eye I sort of imagine Audra’s style as somewhere between Julie Beck and Nael Hanna. 


With art featuring so prominently in the story did you have to do research into how the art world works, or do you have a history in art yourself?

I did some research into art MFA programs, contemporary artists, things like that, but honestly did not get too far into the weeds. The most important thing for me was what the paintings evoked and, at times, provoked, which had more to do with the writing of them. I don’t have much background in art – just an ardent admirer of painters and the magic they can create. 


The book has multiple narrators, as well as featuring stories unfolding across more than one decade, as well as extracts from Audra’s thesis, and Coral’s disjointed, poetic notes. Was it hard to make these all work together, or did you find being able to switch to these different narratives made it easier to craft the story you wanted?

When I first started writing the book, Audra, Max, and Coral were my three main speaking voices, each, basically, getting full chapters to tell their side of the story. Coral’s notes didn’t exist as such, because she had her own chapters, just like Max and Audra do now. The Juniper character didn’t exist, and we spent all our time in 2018, none in 1988. As I worked with my editor, who is wonderful at spying potential in things that sort of get mentioned in passing within the narrative, we started to sort out things to pull back on, things to emphasize, and things to create from scratch to better serve the story. So, I wrote the entire Lupine Valley/Juniper/1988 thread, and condensed Coral down to snippets of notes and found objects, got rid of some characters, and added some others. 

All of this was good and necessary work and made the book so much better, but it also greatly complicated the drafting and structure of the book – especially compared to what it had been in the beginning. To help myself along, I created a spreadsheet “database” of all the scenes, POVs, timelines, etc. in the book so I could keep track of it all. Ultimately, having all those different angles into the story is just what the book needed, even if it was quite the challenge to pull off. 


Before even getting into the story the book makes readers aware that it’s going to be dealing with themes like abuse, mental illness, and suicide. Did you have to do a lot of research into these areas in order to present them in as caring a way as you did?

As I got into the story and saw what the mental health challenges would be for one character in particular, I did my best to research and write her in a humane, multidimensional way. Like most people out there, I have loved ones in my life who struggle with depression, or with suicidal ideation. A dear friend of mine died by suicide several years ago, and it impacted me deeply. I think about him a lot. And as I wrote the characters in the book, I kept my friend in mind – his vibrancy, his incredible intellect, his incandescent intensity at times. Treating the topic and the character in DTIA with respect was of the utmost importance to me both because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s personal to me. 

I was also fortunate enough to work with a wonderful sensitivity reader named Jon. I think it’s a great thing that the publishing industry is making this more of a standard practice when topics of great nuance and import are handled in fiction. 


One of the central characters in the book deals with some mental health issues; in the past a character with bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts would be treated very poorly, but you treated her with a lot of respect and kindness. Have you found that there has been a shift towards attitudes around mental health in publishing in recent years?

Thank you so much for saying so, I appreciate that. And yes, I do think there has been a shift – but not just in publishing. In recent years the stigmas surrounding mental health have been greatly reduced. They are not completely gone, of course, but so many more people feel empowered to take their mental health seriously than they used to, and to not feel like it’s taboo. The fact that we ever treated anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, etc., as taboo is truly wild. Every single person on this planet deals with mental health “issues.” It’s part of being human.  

Therapy has gone mainstream. Talking about mental health medication openly as a key part of a person’s wellness plan is starting to take on the normalcy of blood pressure medication, which is a beautiful thing. 

The one-dimensional idea of “crazy” is becoming passe, thank god. It’s so glib. It’s a term of dismissal, betraying laziness on the part of the person who uses it in any remotely serious way. The character who suffers in my book is not crazy. My friend who died by suicide was not crazy. The culture is starting to catch up to this self-evident nuance.  


Revenge is a big theme of the book, and the story is a bit different because it doesn’t really show it to be self destructive, and if anything it seems kind of cathartic. Do you think that will hold true for the character after the end of the book, or do you think that revenge and hate is ultimately a destructive force?

Ah gosh, great question. I think I’m going to give a “have my cake and eat it, too” answer. Do I think that, generally speaking, in life, revenge is ultimately a destructive force? Yes, I think so. The Taken movies and the Death Wish movies feel good and cathartic to us to watch as fantasy, but the reality is too dark for it to be emotionally or psychically sustainable for the average person in real life. 

But, in the world of DTIA ? I have sealed that world off hermetically in my mind, and yeah – I think that the particular character you’re referencing is going to sleep better for what they did, not worse. It will be cathartic for them, and there won’t be regrets. 


The book’s set in the Maine woodland, and you craft some beautiful imagery of the nature there. What drew you to set the book there?

I moved to Maine from Brooklyn, NY when I was eight years old, and I have lived here, more or less, ever since. Maine is just kind of cinematic and majestic. The old girl’s easy to write about with that kind of aesthetic reverence – because she just is that way. And Maine is also mostly very rural. There are unorganized territories of unending timberlands here. And so Maine felt perfect for a story where feeling separated, cloistered, maybe trapped without nearby help was key.  


What kind of books do you yourself enjoy reading, and do they influence your work in any ways?

I am a thriller junkie. Like everyone else in the world, I have devoured everything by Gillian Flynn. I’m also a huge Stephen King fan, and I love Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child’s Pendergast series. I’m currently reading Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan and Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby. One sort of off-theme book that floored me in the last few years was The Overstory by Richard Powers. Hoo boy, what a dazzler. 

I think all reading influences in one way or another. I think I’m too close to my work to see overt tells there might be, but I think it all gets tossed around in the concrete mixer of the mind and manifests somehow. 


What can people look forward to seeing from you in the future, do you have any other projects planned out yet?

I do have a full, completed next manuscript in hand that I’m very excited about. My agent has read it, and vibe-wise, we think there’s some The Paper Palace (Miranda Cowley Heller) and My Absolute Darling (Gabriel Tallent) and Idaho (Emily Ruskovich) in there. I can’t say much more, but I’m hopeful for news about it in the coming months. 



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Tuesday, 14 September 2021

From The Neck Up by Aliya Whiteley - Book Review

 

'The new collection of beautiful, strange and disarming short stories from the award-winning Aliya Whiteley, deftly unpeels the strangeness of everyday life with her trademark wit. Witness the future of farming in a new Ice Age, or the artist bringing life to glass; the many-eyed monsters we carry and the secret cities inside our bodies.'

I've read two Aliyah Whiteley books before From The Neck Up, and have found that her writing is a very unique, almost lyrical style, one that lends itself well to her unusual way of writing. This new book presents readers with a collection of sixteen short stories that I think give a good taste of what Aliya's writing is like, and shows how even when trying out different genres and themes there's something to her work that's so distinctly, and uniquely, hers.

The best way to describe this book is speculative. I know that's a term that is often used in conjunction with other genres, but Whiteley manages to write across so many different genres and themes in this book that this is really the best way to describe it as a whole. Whether it's a story that's leaning more towards horror, or is more obviously sci-fi, or one that seems to be only a few steps removed from our current world, the one thing that unites all of these stories is speculation.

Everything in this book is asking a question, whether that's wanting us to look at how we treat our planet, how we think of human lives, how we view love, sacrifice, or even mental illness. Whiteley seems to like challenging her readers, but in ways that don't feel confrontational, or like she's tying to make a point or teach a less. Instead, she simply presents her stories and her characters, and allows those events to lead the reader to a certain point, without them necessarily realising they've been made to thin about a difficult subject.

One of the downsides of a collection like this, however, is that not all of the stories feel as strong as the others. I'm not saying any of them are bad, as they're certainly no bad ones in this collection, but I've found that when work is being selected from the body of a single author there are sometimes examples that are so much stronger than the others it can lead to some of the stories feeling less effective.

Some of the stories in this collection that I feel are so good that they kind of overshadow some of the others include 'Into Glass', a strangely beautiful body horror story that touches on love, abuse, and sacrifice; 'Blessings Errupt', a eco-dystopia story that speculates on a possible future where we've begun to live with nature, but the sacrifices some people are having to make to keep that society going and the pain it causes them; 'From The Neck Up', an odd ghost like story featuring a severed head and a young woman learning to pursue her passions and the things in life that bring her joy; and 'Brushwork', which imagines a future where the elderly are employed in special farm domes to grow produce whilst the world experiences a second ice age outside. 

'Brushwork' in particular stuck out to me as better than most of the other stories in the book due in part to it being the longest story in the book. It was more of a novella than a short story, and was longer than several of the others combined. It gave readers the chance to really get to know the characters, and spend time in that world. However, because it was the first story too it really felt out of place. I ended up expecting all of the stories in the book to be longer in length than they actually were because of the way the book began, and I was somewhat disappointing that they weren't all given the attention 'Brushwork' was.

I think that's perhaps my biggest criticism with the book, that I felt that I wanted more from the vast majority of these stories. I wanted to spend more time learning about these strange worlds what Whiteley had created, to see how these characters evolved and grew, and to have more of my questions answered. There are many stories here that felt like they could have gone on to become their own novel length fictions, and I'm a little sad they didn't.

Overall, there's a ton of stuff in this book to like. There are so many stories on offer here, of various different genres and themes that I think you'd be hard pressed to come away without liking at least one; or more realistically several. It's amazing to see how this author is able to turn their hand to so many different types of stories and make them all feel engaging and strange in some way, that they all end up drawing you in an wanting more.

If you're a long time fan of Aliya Whiteley you're going to love this book, and if you've never read any of her work before this book is definitely going to end with you wanting to read more of her work.


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Monday, 13 September 2021

The Devil Makes Three by by Tori Bovalino - Book Review

 


'Tess Matheson only wants three things: time to practice her cello, for her sister to be happy, and for everyone else to leave her alone.

'Instead, Tess finds herself working all summer at her boarding school library, shelving books and dealing with the intolerable patrons. The worst of them is Eliot Birch: snide, privileged, and constantly requesting forbidden grimoires. After a bargain with Eliot leads to the discovery of an ancient book in the library's grimoire collection, the pair accidentally unleash a book-bound demon.

'The demon will stop at nothing to stay free, manipulating ink to threaten those Tess loves and dismantling Eliot’s strange magic. Tess is plagued by terrible dreams of the devil and haunting memories of a boy who wears Eliot's face. All she knows is to stay free, the demon needs her... and he'll have her, dead or alive.'

There's just something about big old libraries that lend themselves well to creepy stories. They're one of the best places in the world, filled with wonderful, wonderful books, but when a writer sets a story in a library and things get spooky it just feels right. Perhaps its the rows and rows of shelves, the quiet that hangs over them, or the stern librarians watching you from a distance in case you hurt one of their books. Whatever it is about libraries that makes them perfect for horror Tori Bovalino manages to capture it.

The Devil Makes Three centres on Tess Matheson, a budding young musician who's had to give up on her dream of attending music school in order to get her younger sister into an elite school. Thanks to her father having lost all of their money she's had to turn to her aunt to get them a place at the school she works at; but Tess had to go along as part of the deal, using her talent to secure the place. Angry that she's had to give up her dream to help her sister, she's spending the summer working in the library with her aunt.

It's at this library that we meet our second lead, Eliot Birch, the son of a faculty member that Tess absolutely loathes. When Tess gets assigned to pull out dozens and dozens of magical grimoires and texts for Eliot the two of them end up striking up a conversation, one in which Eliot learns that Tess hates his father as much as he does. Using this to his advantage Eliot asks Tess to let him into the library's locked basement, where the most dangerous texts are held. Together, the two of them travel beneath the library to gather the books Eliot is after, but discover a strange chamber hidden in one of the walls; one that holds a mysterious book.

When Tess reads from the book she begins to have strange dreams, dreams of an entity wearing Eliots face, trying to convince her to give herself over to him. When books around her begin to bleed ink, and she starts to wake up hurt she begins to suspect that she and Eliot released something evil from that book, something that has set it's sights on claiming Tess as it's own.

I have to be honest, I went into this book expecting certain things. Thanks to the description of the book, and the ages of the main characters, I thought that this was going to be a dark fantasy style book aimed at a young adult audience, with some slow burn romance; and there is a lot of that in this book, but what its got more of is horror. And I absolutely loved that.

The book has some great characterisation, and we really get to know Tess and Eliot well, delving into their histories, their thought processes, and their motivations. It sets up its world well, and in a very short amount of time you feel like you know the world they're inhabiting, especially the library. And the romance that builds between the two of them feels well earned, and fits wonderfully into the enemies to lovers genre. But, the area where the book really, really shines is the elements of horror.

At first this starts small, with creepy dreams, and strange visions, but over the course of the book things ramp up in intensity, with undead creatures stalking our heroes through the streets, trying to break into their homes. It's intense and disturbing at times, and really pushes the boundaries at points. It's something that I honestly wasn't expecting; though considering the title of the book I really should have been. It felt like it was taking a lot of things that have become very familiar in this genre, and pushing them further than normal. It felt both incredibly familiar and comfortable, but also different and at times extreme.

Tori Bovalino does an amazing job in this book, creating a story and characters that I very quickly came to love; and crafted a book that I was honestly sorry to see end. Come the final pages I found myself feeling disappointed that it was only as long as it was. I could have spent longer with these people, and if a sequel was to announced I'd be pre-ordering it straight away. 

If you're a fan of YA books, if you like dark fantasy, horror, romance, and just honestly great storytelling this is a book that you're going to want to check out. Just make sure that if you're borrowing it from the library you don't read anything there you shouldn't be.


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Sunday, 12 September 2021

Freeze by Chris Priestley - Book Review

 


'When Maya and her classmates are asked to write a creepy story with a winter theme, they come up with some brilliant ideas. Rising floodwaters uncover long-buried bodies and ghostly children take to the ice on a frozen canal. But as each of the stories is read out in class, Maya grows more and more uncomfortable. She features in each of her friends' creepy tales and they start to feel a little too real. Finally, when a mysterious new girl stands up to read the last story of the day, the light outside dims and it starts to snow. The classroom starts to freeze but everyone is trapped. Can Maya stop the story before the nightmare comes true?'

I think it's fair to say that people like being scared, a good creepy tale that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, that has you pulling your limbs in close and tucking your blanket in tighter are just good fun; and this is true for kids too. Kids love to get scared every now and then.

Horror stories marketed towards kids can be a tricky thing. There's a fine line that you need to walk. You need to make sure that the book is scary enough that that it'll get the reader frightened, but not too scary that it'll result in nightmares and parents writing angry letters. It can also be hard to make scary stories that will also appeal to adults. Looking back on some of the 'greatest' kids horror fiction as an adult, things like Goosebumps, it's sometimes hard to see what about them actually made you afraid as a kid. Freeze, however, does something really special, as it managed to creep me out a lot.

The story follows Maya, a young girl who wakes up one day feeling a bit odd. She's not sure what's wrong with her, she knows that she had some kind of bad dream, but can't really remember much about it. This feeling of unease continues as she heads to school. Arriving at school she finds that her friends all seem to have had a similar experience. 

A supply teacher is taking the class for the day, and gets the students to try and come up with creepy stories themed around winter. Maya's friends all come up with scary stories, and one by one they stand in front of the class and read them out. As each story gets told Maya's bad feeling gets worse and worse, and she feels like she's experiencing the stories herself. When a new girl in the class, an oddly pale girl none of them have ever seen before, takes her turn to read out a story Maya realises that something terrible is happening.

Freeze does a really clever thing, it's one big story, but really it's an anthology book, a book that has several spooky short stories within it, but one with a bridging narrative around it all that these stories play a part in. We don't just get the spooky stories that the kids are coming up with, but the narrative around them adds to the unease too; especially as the stories begin to bleed into the main narrative and make things creepier for our characters.

Priestley does an excellent job with each of these winter themed horror stories, and they're all genuinely quite creepy. They're simple yes, and they do feel like they could have been written by children, but he seems able to tap into some kind of primal child-like fear with each one that makes it feel genuinely terrifying at times. These feelings are only enhanced by the dark and disturbing illustrations throughout the book; also provided by Priestley.

There have been occasions when reading Barrington Stoke books where I've felt that the lack of colour illustrations has been a little bit of a let down, where I wanted to see the colour versions to get the full effect of the work the artists had put in. In this book, however, the exact opposite is true. The gloomy, black and white illustrations only enhance the creepiness of things. The jagged, sometimes messy art style that Priestly employs makes the illustrations feel like partially glimpsed and barely remembered moments from a nightmare, where things don't feel completely right.

Freeze is a children's book, but I think it's one that readers of any age can pick up an enjoy. Whether you're reading it to a child, trying not to get them too scared, or if you've just picked it up yourself to see what it's like I'm pretty sure that you're going to like it. And that ending, I have to be honest, it's a bold and striking end to a kids book.

A must for any kid who has a thing for horror; and any adult who feels the same.


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Saturday, 11 September 2021

The Puffin Portal by Vashti Hardy - Book Review

 


'Newly qualified warden Grace Griffin couldn't be more excited about using the griffin map to teleport through Moreland fighting crime. But her first mission is proving to be a bit of a puzzle. A series of bizarre thefts have been happening all over the country, and the only link between them is the sighting of a peculiar bird at the scene of each robbery. When the clues finally lead to a ramshackle castle on a lonely island, Grace might find more than just a thief...'

The Puffin Portal is the latest release in the wonderful Griffin Gate series, a collection of fantasy adventure books for children from author Vashti Hardy. One of the good things about this entry, however, is that readers don't really need to have read the previous book in order to jump in and enjoy this latest adventure.

The story begins by introducing readers to Grace, the youngest member of the Griffin family. Following the invention of a series of portals by her great grandmother that allow people to instantly teleport across the country of Moreland, her family have been acting as guardians for its people. Whenever there's trouble, or people need help, they can ask the Wardens, the members of the Griffin family, to help them.

Having just recently been trained up and allowed to go out on simple missions on her own, Grace has been looking into a string of odd robberies across Moreland. There have been no clues left at the scenes, and only strange items have gone missing, such as a tool here and there, and the occasional item of food. Determined to find out if there could be a connection between these crimes Grace sets out to find answers with the help of her robotic raven Watson.

Very soon the two of them start to believe that the crimes could be connected, thanks to several witnesses having reported seeing a puffin in the area, and a strange feather being found at one of the crime scenes. But how can puffins be involved? Staking out a likely target, Grace and Watson see a puffin breaking into a shop and making off with a loaf of bread. Following the bird through a strange portal the two of them find themselves on a remote island with a tumbling castle.

The mystery of The Puffin Portal is a fun series of crimes that on the surface seem unconnected, but thanks to some clues laid out by Hardy, and some inventive investigation by Grace, the answers soon start to unfold; allowing the younger readers the opportunity to try and figure things out before everything is revealed. 

Whilst it is a fairly simple mystery, this is a children's book after all, it's still one that will keep younger readers interested. And because the mystery isn't the most important part of the book, it doesn't really matter if some of the readers figure it out early on. The real heart of the book, instead, is the relationship that forms between Grace and Tom, the young boy found living in the ruined island castle. Hardy does a good job of building something between the two children, and leading you to come to the conclusions that Grace does; as well as decisions that will lead to a lovely resolution.

The Puffin Portal is not only a good follow up to The Griffin Gate, but a good book in its own right. It is able to introduce readers to this interesting new world and the characters that inhabit it, whilst also expanding on what came before for those that have already experienced the first book. It also comes with some wonderful illustrations by Natalie Smillie that really helps to bring it all alive. 

Whether you're new to this world, or a returning fan, you're sure to love The Puffin Portal.


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Friday, 10 September 2021

The Brotherhood of Satan (1971) – Blu-ray Review


 Originally published on Set The Tape


The 1970s was a decade that loved satanism. Okay, it always seemed to be morally outraged about the idea of satanism, and militant Christians were against anything they perceived to be possible of inspiring devil worship in children, such as rock music, comics, and table top role playing games. But despite that outrage you couldn’t avoid stories about devil worship and satanic cults in the 70s. It was big business.

With Rosemary’s Baby being a huge hit in 1968 it wasn’t long before a lot more satanic movies came along. Some were good, others were pretty forgettable. The Brotherhood of Satan is a film that came pretty early on in this craze, having been released in 1971, and managed to be pretty middle of the road in terms of quality, and because it never achieved huge acclaim or scorn it kind of faded from memory, making this new Blu-ray release from Arrow one of the first chances a lot of people will have to experience the movie.

The film follows a young family as they celebrate their daughter’s birthday and travel across country to visit their grandmother. Ben (Charles Bateman) is the father, a man whose wife died several years ago, and now he’s raising his daughter K.T. (Geri Reischl) with help from his girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri). When the three of them travel close to the small town of Hillsboro their car radio goes out, and they discover a ruined vehicle, a car crushed flat. Travelling into town to tell the local sheriff (L.Q. Jones) they’re instead met with suspicion and surprise from the locals.



Attempting to flee Hillsboro their car runs off the road and they find themselves needing to head back to town for help. This is when they learn a terrible secret: for some reason no one has been able to enter or leave Hillsboro for the past three days, except this family. And what’s more, local families are dying in bizarre, brutal ways, with the children of the families going missing. Some kind of force is keeping the townspeople hostage, and now Ben fears his daughter might be at risk.

The Brotherhood of Satan is a fairly subtle film in a lot of ways. It starts with a strange scene of a toy tank, intercut with an actual tank running over a car whilst people inside scream for help. Little explanation is given here, and this is something that will happen a lot across the film. Things are hinted at, they’re suggested, but we never get straight answers; instead, the filmmakers leave it up to the audience to figure out what’s going on.

This is a pretty bold move, and one that’s unusual for films at the time. It keeps the audience in the dark a lot, and we get to learn things as the characters do for the most part. That being said, there are times where we get to see behind the scenes, where we view the satanic cult and their rituals, but we’re just casual observers here, and the characters don’t go out of their way to explain what’s happening with clunky dialogue. As such, even though we’re seeing behind the curtain as it were, we still have to fill in a lot of the gaps ourselves.



Director Bernard McEveety seems to take a somewhat laid back approach to directing too. There are several scenes where the audience are treated as mere observers looking in. There are scenes where several characters are standing around discussing what’s going on. Instead of having close-ups of the actors when they talk, changing angle or shifting the frame it’s all done in one long shot, where everyone is visible on screen at once. It plays out more like a theatre performance than film, and it really makes even the most mundane scenes stand out.

Because of the lack of explanation at times, and the way the film’s shot, it means that you’re having to do a lot of the work yourself, and may even have to watch through a couple of times to get everything. For example, I didn’t even realise that the head of the cult was doing double duty as the town doctor alongside the heroes because actor Strother Martin presented himself so differently in these two roles. It was incredibly subtle, yet so obvious. It’s this kind of thing that makes this a movie where you’ll end up wanting to watch through again, looking for other things you may have missed.

Unfortunately, due to being something of a niche movie it’s fairly light on special features. There are no behind the scenes footage, nor interviews with cast and crew on the movie made at the time. There are a couple of things that are worth watching though, ‘The Children of Satan’ is an interesting short documentary that talks to two of the child actors involved in the movie, discussing their memories of making the film, and ‘Satanic Panic: How the 1970s Conjured the Brotherhood of Satan’ is a nice little visual essay by horror and film historian David Flint. The highlight of the extras, however, is probably the new commentary track featuring horror writers Kim Newman and Sean Hogan. The two of them not only talk about the film in great depth, but horror and entertainment of that era, and where this movie fits into the satanic films of the era.

This new set proves to be an interesting look at a forgotten horror movie that was bold enough to try its own thing, and that treated its audience as intelligent people able to think for themselves. Definitely one worth checking out, even if just to say you’ve seen it.


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Thursday, 9 September 2021

Star Wars Adventures: Tales of Villainy #8 – Comic Review

 

Originally published on Set The Tape


Contains spoilers for this issue of Star Wars Adventures.

Sometimes Star Wars Adventures will give you a couple of great stories, sometimes it will shed light onto parts of the Star Wars universe that don’t always get showcased, sometimes it puts minor characters in the spotlight and shows how cool they are; and sometimes you finish reading an issue and you feel pretty bored with it. Sadly, issue eight of Star Wars Adventures: Tales of Villainy falls into that final category.

The first story, ‘The Princess and the Bog, A Twin Tale’, written by Sam Maggs with art by Liana Kangas and Brittany Peer, concludes a story started in the previous issue, that sees Leia and Luke on the planet Bogano, scouting for a new Rebel base. Whilst the planet seems to be a pretty good location they’re shocked to find that there’s already an Imperial presence there, as a group of Storm Troopers are rounding up Boglings, small fuzzy creatures native to the planet.

The Skywalker kids, being the good and moral heroes they are, decide that they have to stop the Empire from taking these cute little creatures prisoner. And this is where we reach the big issue with this story. Both of them feel like they have the better plan of action, and instead of discussing it rationally they just butt heads. Leia want them to make sure that there are no more Troopers hiding around, and to attack from the sides in a surprise tactic. Luke, on the other hand, wants to run at them shooting. Eventually, the two of them decide to compromise, by running at the enemy, them splitting up and attacking from the sides.

Honestly, this was pretty bad. Not only is this a terrible plan, because the enemy could gun you down straight away, but because there was no reason for them to compromise. Whilst Leia was not a General in the Rebellion she was one of its leaders, and held command over a lot of troops and military campaigns. In contrast, Luke was at this point in the story just a pilot, a low ranking member of the Rebellion, despite being a hero for destroying the Death Star. So this isn’t a situation where two people of comparable rank have to come up with a plan together, this is a time where Luke should have shut the hell up and listen to his boss who had a much better plan based on her years of experience.

I couldn’t help but come away from this story thinking that both characters were incredibly short sighted. Leia backed down too quickly. She gave in to an inexperienced farm boy who was insisting that they act recklessly and without a plan. She didn’t come across as a competent leader of the Rebellion, nor as someone who should be commanding troops if she’s going to fold under the slightest scrutiny. Luke, equally looks as silly. He’s being impatient and reckless, insisting that his plan is the only way and not listening to his commander. If I was Leia I’d have charged Luke with insubordination once we got back to base.



The art on this story didn’t help my enjoyment much either. The art had very thick lines on a lot of stuff, and very little detail. The characters were often standing in almost blank voids, and if it wasn’t for the colourist adding some gradients or shading to the panels it would have been people standing in a lot of voids. It also meant that the characters didn’t really look like Luke or Leia either, and that if you didn’t have the names in the text you wouldn’t know who they were supposed to be. The action scene is also pretty messy looking, and it was pretty hard to follow. Overall, I was hugely disappointed with this particular story. It felt rushed and sloppy, with very little of the characters actually being present here. This was not Luke and Leia.

The second story, ‘Trade Relations’, written by Danny Lore with art by Arianna Florean and Ronda Pattison, was better, but still failed to impress. The story sees an unnamed senator from the Republic coming to finalise a trade agreement with the planet Rylorii Minor during the Clone Wars. The talks are tense, as the mayor of the planet feels that the Republic are overstepping their bounds and putting his planet at risk. When an assassination attempt is then made, and later a kidnapping, by people wearing cloaks from Coruscant, the mayor believes it’s a Republic plot. Fortunately, a couple of the Clone Troopers are able to apprehend the people, and prove that it’s locals; allowing the deal to be closed.

The story is honestly quite dull, and even the reveal at the end that this was all happening because Count Dooku was pulling strings behind the scenes did little to make it feel like it mattered in any real way. And I think a large part of this was down to there being no other recognisable figures in the story. This could have felt more important if the Senator was Amidala, or even Bail Organa, or if the Clone Troops were ones we knew. But this was all completely new characters, on a world we didn’t know, and none of it felt important at all.

The art in this story is at least an improvement over the first, with the whole thing looking a lot cleaner and neater. The line work is nice, and there’s plenty of detail given both to characters and location. The planet manages to feel like a lived in location, with things go on outside of the main story. The artist and colourist work well together to make a story that looks cartoony, but is still recognisably a part of the Clone Wars era.

Overall, this might be one of the worst issues of the series to date, thanks in large part to one story that made two of the best characters in the franchise look awful, and one story that felt like it had no impact or relevance at all. Hopefully the next issue will improve things significantly.


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Wednesday, 8 September 2021

The Art of Space Travel and Other Stories by Nina Allan - Book Review

 


'A collection of short stories from the award-winning author of The Rift and The Dollmaker, Nina Allan. This compilation brings together rarely seen tales spanning the vast breadth of Allan's writing career for the first time. It also includes a brand-new introduction and one never-before-published story. Locus has described Nina as 'a subversive writer... playing with both the familiar protocols of genre and with the nature of the reading experience itself.' This is a stunning collection from one of the most astute and innovative voices writing today.'

Before this short story collection the only work of Nina Allan that I'd read was The Silver Wind; a book that in a lot of ways felt like an anthology due to the way it was structured. Despite this only being the second book of Allan's that I'd picked up it was immediate to me very early on that this was her work, as I've found that this author has a very definitive sense of style to her work that makes it instantly recognisable as hers.

The stories presented in this collection span the entirety of her career, and in the introduction to the book Allan talks about how she came to choose the pieces she did. These stories are presented in a chronological order, and it allows a unique look at how the authors work has evolved over the years. This was something that I saw myself whilst reading the book, as I found that the first two stories here were the weakest, but that once we reached the third one I found a story that was much more in the style I recognised from her other book; and this was when I began to enjoy the book even more.

The first story in the book is 'Amethyst', and focuses on a friendship between two teenagers who grow up in a small town that features in a song by a popular singer. One of the two of them seems to become obsessed that part of their town was used in the song, and begins to act stranger over time; causing her friend to drift away from her. Over the course of the story questions are raised as to if strange things are happening, but we never really get a firm answer on this. Whilst this is something that Allan does a lot in her work, there was something about this particular story that failed to grab me in ways others have, and it felt very much like she was still in the process of finding her voice as an author.

'Heroes' is similar in a lot of regards. This story follows Finlay, a young boy who strikes up an unlikely friendship with an old man who raises racing pigeons. When Finlay is left to take care of the mans house and his pigeons whilst he's away racing he discovers a strange artefact inside the house. Sadly, this is never really explored in any great depth, and despite the final moments of the story hinting that something more than normal is going on it's never explained. Like 'Amethyst', this lack of clarity was a frustrating part of an otherwise engaging narrative.

'A Thread of Truth' was there the book really warmed on me, however. This story was the most unusual by being the least unusual. The other stories in the book all seemed to have a little something strange, otherworldly, or supernatural happening in them; this story, was just the story of a regular man who ended up discovering a love for spiders. The story covers his time at university, where he realises that his chosen career could be undone by his arachnophobia. He decides to try to conquer his fear, and even ends up on a spider spotting retreat; and it's here that he not only discovers that he loves spiders, but comes to discover the love of his life. This story is very normal, and other than a creepy ghost story told part way through it feels a lot like normal life. That being said, the characters were so engaging, and the narrative so well written I couldn't help but love reading it.

'Flying in the Face of God' is a story set at some point in the future, and follows a person who knows a 'flyer', a person who travels into space, though at great physical cost. The story doesn't focus on the space travel side of things, nor does it really explain who the fliers are or why this process kills them; instead, it focuses on people. The story looks at those left behind by the fliers, whose lives they have touched, and who they change because of their fates.

'Microcosmos' is set in a world where the weather seems to have changed drastically. The temperatures are higher, the water is depleted, and the sun is harsher. Much like in the previous story there's no real reason given for this, and the narrative instead follows a young girl as she travels with her family to meet a relative named Ballantine. once at his home we get vague hints at things that may have happened, and may yet come to pass, but because it's told from the perspective of a child most of it remains unclear, and it feels like we're looking in at part of a much bigger story; one that we're not meant to understand.

'Fairy Skulls' is possibly my favourite story in the book, and tells of a young woman who inherits some money from her aunt, as well as golden bracelet with what she claims are fairy skulls attached to it. After being convinced to buy a run down cottage in the countryside that she can do up the woman soon begins to suspect that fairy folk might be sneaking into her home to try and get the skulls back. This is one of the more lighthearted stories in the book, and it feels like there's a lot of hope for the future and promise of good things to come by the end. I think it also benefited by being the story that didn't hide much. It was clear that this was a story about faeries, and it allowed itself to have a lot of fun with the concept.

'The Science of Chance' was an intriguing story set in a Russia with an alternate history. Set decades after a disaster that left many people dead an investigator has to try to get to the bottom of a mystery as a young girl appears in a train station one day, mute and alone. Over the course of her investigation the woman is shocked when evidence points towards the fact that this child might have been transported forward in time from the disaster years ago. This was a fun story, and the time travel element was brilliantly incorporated. It's also one of the stories where the ambiguous nature of the ending was a definite benefit.

'Marielena' is a similar story in the sense that it deals with time travel. But like with other Allan stories it focuses on a regular person on the outside of the real story. In 'Marielena' we follow Noah, an asylum seeker trying to get by in the UK whilst waiting for his application to go through. Over the course of the story he befriends and helps a homeless woman. It's whilst going through her things that he discovers that she has identification documents listing dates in the future, leading him to wonder if she might have travelled back in time, or if her claims might be delusion. It's an interesting story, and one where I ended up wanting more so that we could find out what was going on.

'The Art of Space Travel', the story after which this collection is named, follows a young woman working in an airport hotel, a hotel where two astronauts will be staying before travelling across the world to join their team on a mission setting out to Mars. The woman is only somewhat interested in the astronauts, more concerned with her mothers failing health and her interest in discovering who her father is; but over the course of the story she begins to suspect that her father might be connected to the mission to Mars. It's an interesting story, and I loved the focus on human lives and regular wants and troubles like family. It made a point of how regular life often goes on even when world changing events are happening.

'Neptune's Trident' is a story that seems to take place in a future following some kind of disaster or upheaval, and follows Caitlin as she scavenges for things washed up on the beach to sell and trade for basics to get by. In this new world there are 'flukes', people who seem to be hosts to some kind of entities or creatures that change people over time. Over the course of the story we see very different reactions to this, from those who wish to help the flukes, to allow them to live, and those who see them as an invasion and worthy of death. It's a chilling story in places, and I loved the way it examined how different people can come to vastly different conclusions on the same topics.

'Four Abstracts' is like 'A Thread of Truth' in a lot of ways. There's not a huge amount in this story that jumps out as unusual or otherworldly; plus there's a connection to spiders once again. The story is about Rebecca, an artist who is already dead once the story begins. Through flashbacks from her friends, as well as the things her loved ones do after she goes we get an insight into this odd woman, a woman who believed herself to be cursed. It's a strangely effecting story, and one where I liked the narrative structure and the way it slowly revealed more about the characters.

'The Common Tongue, the Present Tense, the Known' is a follow up to 'Microcosmos', as we once again focus on Melanie, the protagonist of that story. The story picks up with Melanie later in life, in a world still dealing with climate change, and shows her friendship with Noemi, a scavenger. One of the things that jumped out at me about this story was that as well as being a sequel, it felt very similar to 'Neptune's Trident' in a lot of ways too, and it was clear why these three stories were all included in the book; the fact that they all share a lot of the same themes.

'The Gift of Angels: an Introduction' is another story that has a lot less science fiction elements involved, and is more of a literary piece. The story focuses on a writer who goes on holiday to Paris. The story was engaging, despite it not normally being the kind of thing that I go for, and the characters and their journeys over the course of the story were more than enough to keep me engaged to the point where I was a little sad when it came to an end.

The final story in the collection is 'A Princess of Mars: Svetlana Belkina and Tarkovsky's Lost Movie Aelita'. This is actually a brand new story for this collection, never appearing anywhere else before. The story centres on an investigation into an abandonned adaptation of a science fiction story, and it feels like non-fiction in some ways. It would be easy to see it as an account from someone talking about a real film project. It was an intruging piece, and one that was interesting to leave the collection on.

Whilst many of the stories in this collection feel disconnected, clearly taking place in different times, different worlds all together, there are several themes that echo across multiple stories. But the one thing that is constant throughout is the strange,and delicately beautiful way that Nina Allan writes stories. Even those that focus the most on things like space or time travel the stories never really focus on these things, instead putting people at the heart of the tales. Allan weaves the fantastical in with the common place in such subtle ways that it feels like reality intersecting with the extraordinary.

I wish I was able to describe the way I feel about Allan's writing, but I think that any words I put together to do so will fail to capture the nature of it. She writes in a way that so wonderfully and obviously hers, a style and a grace that no one else would be able to mimic. These stories don't just feel like something she's written, but something she's put a little piece of her soul into. They feel like small insights into a complex and layered person. The only thing I can say is, I think everyone should at least try a Nina Allan story, that her wonderful and unique way of writing will be an experience you don't want to miss, even if it's not something you come to love.

The Art of Space Travel and Other Stories is one of the more unique anthology collections I've read. It has a style all to itself, and covers a huge range of themes and genres whilst still feeling like its all part of the same whole. A truly singular reading experience.


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