This month’s reviews:
The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott by Zoe Thorogood
A lovely, thoughtful graphic novel about a young woman who discovers that she is going blind and sets out on a quest to find interesting people to draw. It’s a high concept idea, but the execution is much more down to earth and all the characters Billie meets seem real, whether cruel or kind, friend or foe.
Don’t Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford
This is the third of the books narrated by Fanny Wincham, and unlike The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, Don’t Tell Alfred is about Fanny’s own life as her reliable Oxford don husband Alfred is made ambassador to France sometime in the 1950s. Trouble is waiting for them in the shape of the former ambassadress, who refuses to leave, difficult staff, and their rebellious children, who are either becoming travel agents, travellers themselves, or running away from Eton to trail a pop star. I liked the idea of spending more time with Fanny herself and getting to know more of her personality. The trouble is, like her husband Alfred, who is barely in the book despite the title, she doesn’t have much of one. I would describe this as gently amusing – it was hard to really get into it because Fanny is so bland. Although some of the characters are brilliant, like Fanny’s middle son, the travel agent, working for his grandmother’s latest husband, and her lazy but beautiful secretary Northey, who is very similar to Linda from the earlier books, others fall a bit flat or worse. Her older son and his new wife are obsessed with ‘the East’ and have adopted a Chinese baby, and unfortunately I can’t say the book handles this in a way that avoids any racism.
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
A small town fantasy novel that focuses on the recovering relationship between sisters Claire and Sydney. Claire has never felt like the town is really her home, because she wasn’t born there, even though she inherited her grandmother’s ability to use the magical plants that grow around the strange apple tree in their back garden. Whereas Sydney, the younger of the two, fled her birthplace long ago and has run back home to escape an abusive relationship. I loved learning the family histories of different people in the town and seeing the relationship between the sisters blossom. Although it is quite twee and very sweet, it’s just so enjoyable I found it easy to overlook the slightly dated innocence of it all. Content warning: the descriptions of domestic abuse and violence and sexual assault in this are really quite harrowing so if you think that you’ll have a problem reading these things maybe give this a miss or bear in mind that when you get to pages that are going in that direction you might want to skip a few or give it to somebody else so they can tell you when that bit is over. It only happens in a couple of places in the book so I think quite easily avoided.
The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino
The August Illumicrate book, this was super spooky and definitely suited the change in the seasons! It follows Tess, who has just joined a fancy boarding school with her younger sister, and Elliot, the headmaster’s son and a hereditary witch, who has returned to school at his father’s insistence but is obsessed with finding a spell to cure his mother’s terminal illness. Tess is working at the library to help pay her sister’s tuition and Elliot persuades her to help him retrieve some esoteric books from the basement. But underneath the library they find a crypt, and a mysterious book whose words disappear after Tess reads them aloud…unleashing a devil into the school. This was a lot of fun but it left me wanting a little more – it’s set during the summer break, so there aren’t many other students around, and I wasn’t expecting that.
Follow Me In by Katriona Chapman
This graphic memoir is part-travelogue, part-story of a relationship breakdown, and a beautiful, colourful depiction of the author’s trip to Mexico several years earlier. I learned a lot about Mexico from reading this, alongside the narrative and process of the journey, there are pages giving historical and tourist information. I really loved getting to experience the adventure in this way, seeing the places where they stayed and the people they met as well as the famous sights.
Buy: Bookshop.org (affiliate link)
Spinning by Tillie Walden
Another graphic memoir, this time about the author’s relationship with ice skating as a child and a teenager and how she kept it up for many years before ultimately deciding to give it up. I could definitely relate to the growing feeling of ambivalence about a hobby before stopping. It’s also about being a gay teenager and what happens after she comes out of the closet. It’s not a tell-all book about the scandalous world of ice skating, although some details were surprising, it’s quiet and thoughtful, immersing you into the author’s world and thoughts.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Freddy’s girlfriend Laura Dean keeps breaking up with her, but they always get back together, and Freddy is stuck in a state of perpetual confusion about what it all means. In desperation, she writes to an agony aunt and consults a local psychic, while she struggles to sort through her feelings and be there for her friends. It’s beautifully drawn, and tackles a subject I don’t think is featured enough in fiction – finding the courage to end a relationship with someone you love, but who isn’t right for you.
Buy: Amazon (affiliate link)