Category: graphic novel

Review: ‘Sally Heathcote: Suffragette’ by Mary M. Talbot

Review: ‘Sally Heathcote: Suffragette’ by Mary M. Talbot

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette is a gripping inside story of the campaign for votes for women. A tale of loyalty, love and courage, set against a vividly realised backdrop of Edwardian Britain, it follows the fortunes of a maid-of-all-work swept up in the feminist militancy of the era. Sally Heathcote: Suffragette is another stunning collaboration from Costa Award winners, Mary and Bryan Talbot. Teamed up with acclaimed illustrator Kate Charlesworth, Sally Heathcote’s lavish pages bring history to life.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I went to an all girls’ secondary school as a teenager and we studied a social/economic history syllabus instead of what I think is a more common world history syllabus, with a whole term spent focussing on the history of the Suffragettes. In theory, I really ought to remember a reasonable amount about women’s efforts to obtain the vote and yet I don’t. I remember some key dates/facts and could probably get by in a light conversation on the topic (not that there’s likely to ever be such a thing but still) but by no means as much as I’d like to. I’ve been trying a little bit over recent months to get into non-fiction and I have a few books that I’m really looking forward to but I wouldn’t back my fledgling interest to survive a bout with a detailed book on women’s suffrage. Enter Sally Heathcote: Suffragette, a part fiction, part non-fiction graphic novel story of a young woman who was involved in various organisations’ efforts to secure votes for women.

Sally Heathcote is a fictional suffragette, who at the opening of the novel is a maid in service who ends up working for the Pankhurst family. As historical events unfold, Sally conveniently manages to continue to find herself at the heart of the action. While there wasn’t specifically a Sally Heathcote who travelled to London to work for the Women’s Social and Political Union or other political pressure groups, there were undoubtedly numerous women who did flock to the organisations to contribute their efforts to the groups’ work, challenging their previous role in society and Sally’s actions all feel entirely consistent with a young woman of her position at that time and not a strained storytelling device.

The book is only a couple of hundred pages but it manages to neatly cover all of the main events of the suffrage movement and show how women might have responded at the time (the death of Emily Davison is particularly thoughtfully covered). What Sally Heathcote: Suffragette does extremely well is different groups that were all trying to secure women the right to vote. Alongside the fairly militant WSPU (the group led by the Pankhursts and perhaps the most famous), there were other, arguably more peaceful organisations without subtly different aims, all of them often lumped together as “the Suffragettes”. Talbot does a brilliant job of introducing these groups by portraying Sally as a conflicted suffragette, committed to securing women’s rights but not sure about the best methods and engaging with efforts as best she can. As an introduction to the history and political climate of the era, it’s really solid.

The book is also unflinching about WSPU members’ treatment in prison during their hunger strikes following arrest and the forced feeding that women were subjected to and the horror of the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’, which saw women released from prison when they were deemed in danger of becoming a martyr for the cause and re-arrested when they were thought to be healthy enough to ultimately serve their full sentence. I think all too often we refer to women ‘fighting for the right to vote’ without remembering that women suffered for it and the images and the telling of that in this account are raw and heartbreaking and incredibly powerful.

Speaking of, the illustrations are mostly in grey scale, with some colours used occasionally for emphasis (mostly organisations’ colours, including the now iconic white, green and purple, and Sally’s ginger hair). It’s a style that I’m always a fan of and one that works well here. The palette imbues the narrative with the gravitas and…weight that it deserves and avoids the graphic novel medium making it seem a little frivolous. It can make the other female characters a little difficult to identify by image alone but mostly they’re identified by name and it doesn’t become too much of a problem.

I don’t really want to spoil the book so I’ll just say that the last few panels are really impactive. They’re quiet compared to the drama of the main chapters but the stark contrast between the struggles that are so vividly portrayed in the rest of the pages and the last few statement that Talbot makes is stunning and absolutely perfectly judged.

Overall: I was a fan of Sally Heathcote: Suffragette before I got to the last few pages and those moments really made it something memorable. Books like this should be given to young women as an accessible account of what women (and men!) went through to secure the rights for women to vote, especially in the year that the country will commemorate centenary of the first British women to get the vote. Highly recommended if you want a either an introduction to or a refresher on a still very relevant and fairly recent period of UK history.

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Pictured Edition published by Jonathan Cape (an imprint of Random House) in May 2014

Date finished: 07 January 2018

Source: Library

Graphic Novel Review: ‘Through the Woods’ by Emily Carroll

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

IT CAME FROM THE WOODS.

Most strange things do. 

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss. 

Come, take a walk in the woods, and see what awaits YOU there.


I’d heard an awful lot about this graphic novel even before I started getting into them.  After my success with the first volume of the Fables comic series, Through the Woods was one of the first into my virtual basket when I went on a graphic novel buying binge.  I finally picked it up off the pile one gloomy afternoon and curled up on the sofa under a blanket.  I didn’t move until I’d finished it, slightly wide-eyed.  It was unsettling without being terrifying and had me quietly closing all of the curtains in the house so that I could move about without having to be too menaced by the darkness outside.  I gave it 5 stars without hesitation.  Anything that can be that impactive with so few words deserves all the credit I can give it.
The book’s most obvious virtue is that it’s absolutely stunning.  The cover is eerie and has a raised design that means that it even feels like something that’s crawled out of the woods to haunt you.  The artwork is shadowy and dark and the colours are mostly primary colours that are stark against the black pages.  It’s absolutely perfect.

Image from publisher’s website

The stories themselves are quite short and vary in theme.  Some are more mysterious, others have supernatural threads.  Well, I suppose all of them hint at the supernatural but some are more explicit than others.  My favourites (by a not particularly significant margin – I loved them all) were Our Neighbour’s House, a quiet and disturbing story about three sisters whose father goes missing and leaves them trying to decide whether to brave the woods to get to their neighbour’s house, and A Lady’s Hands Are Cold, a gorgeously illustrated story about a woman dealing with ghostly noises in the creepy mansion of her new husband.

They only very, very narrowly “beat” His Face All Red (which you can read on Emily Carroll’s website for free HERE), a story of a man dealing with the guilt of betrayal that reminded me a lot of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tell Tale Heart.  Next up My Friend Janna, which feels desperately…sad and was the epitome of ‘haunting’.  The last story was my least favourite (which is to say, I only really liked it), The Nesting Place.  It’s the story of a young orphan who goes to visit his brother and his brother’s fiancée and becomes concerned that all is not as it seems with her future sister-in-law.  The story had some wonderful elements and it was one of the longer stories in the collection with a lot more character development but for me, it was a little too obvious.  Most of the stories are subtle and open to interpretation but this one just felt different to me, somehow.

Any criticism that I have is faint and I really recommend that you hunt down a copy of Through the Woods.  Pick it up even you aren’t a graphic novel aficionado and just want to read something different.  Heck, pick it up even if you don’t care about the stories and just want to look at the pictures.   Just make sure that you do pick it up.

Overall:  Stunning, both to look at and to read.  I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more graphic novels by Emily Carroll.  I can’t find any other collections out at the moment so I’ll settle for Baba Yaga’s Assistantwhich is written by Marika McCoola but is illustrated by Emily Carroll.  
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Date finished: 30 January 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
Genre: Graphic Novel; Horror
Pictured Edition Published: by Margaret K. McElderry Books in July 2014

Graphic Novel Review: ‘Nimona’ by Noelle Stevenson

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.


Review

Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism!


I have a feeling that 2016 will be the year that I really get into graphic novels.  I bought a little stash recently and it’s taken a considerable degree of self control not to devour them all over the past couple of weeks.  Not that there would have been anything wrong with that of course but they’re quite pricey and I’m vaguely trying to keep the number of books I’m buying down a tiny bit until we actually have shelves again.

Nimona hasn’t really helped my resolve.  It’s genuinely funny in a dry, sarcastic way (the best way) and the story is fun without being too frothy and I really enjoyed it.  There are dragons and some appropriately fantastical-sounding science. There’s also magic, a powerful organisation with dubious motives and plenty of disguises.  I’m sorry, but really – what’s not to like?  There’s a quote from Rainbow Rowell on the front cover that describes it as “full of humour and heart” and I’ll be damned if she isn’t spot on.  I picked it up wanting something to distract me from the lingering effect of The Collector and I don’t think I could have picked a better diversion.

For a relatively short book that has plenty of action, there’s a surprising amount of character development.  Nimona is a kick-ass shapeshifter full of bravado and snippy comebacks but she’s also vulnerable, with a dark side that’s more fond of villainy even than the kingdom’s most wanted villain, Lord Blackheart.  Lord Blackheart, meanwhile, fights against the established power (the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics) and is lauded as a villain but is obviously conflicted.  Plenty of the other characters are equally well fleshed out.  It could have been just another bad guy v. good guy story and the wit would have carried it but it was smarter and more subtle than that.

And since this was a graphic novel, let’s talk about the art.  I was a big fan.  It’s vibrant and colourful but without feeling flippant.  The panels darken and the colours deepen as the story does, creating a sinister atmosphere that sets off the writing perfectly.  I may not know much about graphic novels but I do know that this was one I “got” and really liked.

Overall:  Colour me pleasantly surprised! Nimona is a fabulous pick if you’re an adult looking for something to keep you entertained for a few hours that has a bit more about it.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for Noelle Stevenson’s comic series, Lumberjanes, without a doubt.

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Date finished: 16 January 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought

Genre: Graphic Novel; YA
Pictured Edition Published: in May 2015 by HarperTeen

Need more convincing?  You can look at an earlier version of the first three chapters for free HERE!

Graphic Novel Haul

In 2014, Hanna bought me Relish by Lucy Knisley for Christmas.  I read it in January and was kind of surprised by how much I liked it.  Laura helped me continue my foray when she bought me French Milk, also by Lucy Knisley.  I might not have reviewed it but I did really like it and it made me want to branch out and try some graphic novels not written by Lucy Knisley.  And then Bex (aren’t book blogger friends great?!) bought me the first volume of the Fables comics for my birthday and it was so much fun.  What can I say?  I’ve kind of caught the graphic novel bug.  On a whim over Christmas, I headed over to the Book Depository and bought up most of the graphic novels on my wishlist…whoops?
Ok, so the pile might scream ‘Graphic Novels for Beginners’ but I’m pretty damn excited.
First up is Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.  Told in black and white comic strips, this is the story of Satrapi’s childhood in Tehran during years that (according to the blurb) “the overthrow of the Shah s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq”.  It sounds utterly fascinating and I’ve heard that it’s also very witty and very moving.  It’s not the glossiest on my pile but I’m really looking forward to it.  
Sticking with the ‘moving’ theme, I also got The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman.  I’ve been curious about this for years and finally took the plunge and bought it.  I’m sure you’ve all heard of it but, in case you haven’t, it’s written and illustrated by a man whose father was a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust and tells of the horrors of the holocaust by depicting the Nazis as cats and the Jewish population as mice.  The book won a Pullitzer prize and I have extremely high hopes for it, even while I’m wary to start out on what promises to be quite a harrowing journey. 

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll is another book that I’ve heard a lot about.  The paperback copy that I have is gorgeous.  The cover has a gnarled feel to it and the drawings are stunning.  It also promises to be seriously creepy, featuring five stories set around journeys in to or out of the woods.  Patrick Rothfuss’ review on Goodreads sums up with “This freaked my shit out”.  I’m intrigued and I’m going to brave my wimpy instincts to explore these “fairy tales gone seriously wrong”.
Lightening the bundle up is Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, which honestly just sounds like it will be so much fun.  It has a quote from Rainbow Rowell on the front for heaven’s sake that declares the story “full of humour and heart”.  It’s the story of a young girl, Nimona, who is sent by an agency to be the sidekick to Lord Ballister Blackheart, a supervillain.  I’ve heard that it’s sharp and that there will be chuckles.  From a quick flick through, the illustrations look bold and colourful and I can’t wait to get stuck in.  The back of my copy shouts about “Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism!” Yes, please.
The last new arrival is the next instalment in the Fables series, Fables: Animal Farm (Volume 2) by Bill Willingham.  This series seems pretty popular among the bloggers that I follow and if they carry on in the vein of the first instalment, I can see why.  They’re pretty expensive (although this one is actually £3 cheaper now than it was when I bought it) so I’ll probably be taking the series pretty slowly and won’t be picking this one up straight away.  I could obviously borrow them from the library (I say ‘obviously’…I haven’t checked…) but now that I have a couple, I kind of want to collect them all.  The illustrations are super detailed and they’re quick to read so they’re the kind of thing that I can see myself flicking back through when I’m further through the story.
And there you have it!  Which ones do I need to be picking up sooner rather than later?  Anything else that I need to be picking up to add to my fledgling collection?

Review: ‘Relish: My Life in the Kitchen” by Lucy Knisley

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe—many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy’s original inventions.

A welcome read for anyone who ever felt more passion for a sandwich than is strictly speaking proper, Relish is a book for our time: it invites the reader to celebrate food as a connection to our bodies and a connection to the earth, rather than an enemy, a compulsion, or a consumer product.
Review
If you’ve hung around here for long enough, you’ll know that I’m a massive food geek.  I’ve never quite worked out how to work food in with the book side of things here but if I’m not reading, I’m almost certainly either cooking, thinking about cooking or eating.  One of the main reasons I got into running is that I’m super into food and see almost every occasion as an excuse to scoff but still want to be able to fit into my clothes.  I’m a “foodie”, I guess you could say.  What I am not is well-versed in the world of graphic novels.  
Before this year, I’d never read a graphic novel as an adult.  Maybe not even as a teenager.  Things might have stayed that way had it not been for Relish: My Life in the Kitchen (which we’re now going to refer to as Relish because I’m lazy),  And Hanna, who bought it for me for Christmas.  It wasn’t that I had anything against graphic novels, it’s just that I didn’t really know where to start or whether I’d like them.  It turns out that I do.  Or at least, I liked this one.
The blurb makes it seem a bit like it will be a bit pretentious and ramble on about how we should have a deep connection to our food.  It’s really not.  Relish is adorable.  Lucy Knisley’s love of food is infectious and reading about her experiences and memories felt comforting, somehow.  Maybe because the illustrations make the anecdotes seem more personal than they would if this was a “normal” memoir.  The drawings have an easy and relaxed feeling about them and the writing is warm and funny.  Relish covers Knisley’s relationship with her food-loving parents, pivotal moments in her formative food years and various encounters of the scrumptious kind.  It’s a simple theme but one that I just loved.  I whipped through it in a couple of sittings and could have kept on reading for hours.
Tucked among the tales of perfect croissants and delicious cheeses are recipes and cooking tips.  How to cook mushrooms without them becoming soggy and disgusting, for example, and how to make an indulgent spaghetti carbonara.  I haven’t actually tried any of the recipes so I can’t say whether Knisley’s cookie recipe really will give you the perfect treat but I loved the way that they were written.  The tone is light and chatty and feels a lot like sharing recipes with a fellow food lover.  I can’t wait to get hold of some of Knisley’s travel memoirs and dig into some more of her culinary anecdotes.
Overall:  A perfect segue into the world of graphic novels if you’re in any way into food.  If you’re already a graphic novel aficionado, I don’t know what to tell you other than Relish is a cute, quick read that will leave you hankering for a plate of freshly baked cookies.

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Date finished: 20 January 2015
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Gifted from lovely, lovely Hanna
Genre: Graphic novel; non-fiction
Pictured Edition Published:  in April 2013 by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group