Update: spookiness and writings

Hello all! An update for you, seeing as you have been hanging about so patiently.

Here is a photo of me at a Halloween/Samhain party at the weekend – I was most proud of my costume, which was based on nothing in particular, but which I am told looked a bit like the Spirit of Jazz from the Mighty Boosh.

Reading: I am currently between books, but I have just finished Provenance by Ann Leckie and A Portable Shelter by Kirsty Logan, both of which I loved. And re-reading The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison for about the fourth time…

Writing: Too many things! I’ve got a story with a deadline in December, which I am desperately scribbling away at, a series that I want to put up here on the blog for free which I am just over half way through (it involves queers and space and silliness) and a “found” story set in a weird town by a big river, which I am also considering putting up here. Although that is less a story, more a collection of strange notices and letters and stuff. I do think you would all enjoy it

Enjoying: The Hopeless Maine exhibition, which I ended up being part of today. Lots of fun, and looking forward to going again. I will also be part of the event on Saturday, so if you want to see me in action you can come to that: https://stroudbookfestival.org.uk/event/tom-nim-brown/

Pondering: the origins of the word ‘yo’. Me and a friend got into this last night, and it was a rabbit hole of confusion and delight!

Listening to: Deathless by Ibeyi

And that’s me – hopefully you’ll hear from me again soon with some book reviews and possibly one of the two blog series’ that I’ve been thinking of.

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Book review catch-up: part two

Part two of the book review catch up – another four slightly random books for you all to enjoy.

The Just City

by Jo Walton

The Just City by Jo Walton

She turned into a tree.

Another one by Jo Walton – this something else entirely again. Apollo and Athena decide, as an experiment, to provide support for humans trying to build Plato’s Republic. It is, as you can imagine, chaos. This book is well written. It is funny as well as thoughtful, exploring the consequences of not only trying to create a utopia but of trying to create that particular utopia. There were multiple POV characters, and the plot was spread out over numerous years as the city developed.

I wasn’t all that invested in the characters, emotionally, but I really enjoyed the challenge of making ideas fit into my brain, and thinking about all the different ways that things might happen and when I finished reading it I felt that my mind had had quite the workout.

Rating: read this, and see if you can come up with a utopia that survives contact with ten-year-olds!

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel meets world

by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Dean Hale SHannon Hale

Doreen Green liked her name.

EEEEEEEEEEE! I LOVED THIS BOOK! I stayed up all night reading it, and laughing, and thinking “I should go to bed now” and then reading another few chapters and then it was ONE IN THE MORNING. This is a novel tie-in to the comic series, taking place when Doreen Green A.K.A Squirrel Girl is fourteen. And it is, in a word, delightful. It’s warm, funny, and fantastic. I love Doreen Green, that rare superhero with no tragic past who just wants to help. She’s great. And I love the format – there are little footnotes and text messages throughout. Her parents are wonderful and supportive. Her best friend Ana Sofia is deaf and brilliant. We meet Tippy Toe the squirrel for the first time. There are LARPers and robot parents and hysterical interactions with the Avengers (Doreen Green texts the Winter Soldier under the impression that he is probably a yeti who works with them).

There is just SO MUCH LOVE AND JOY TO BE HAD HERE!

Rating: READ IT READ IT READ IT *calms down* and then, yanno, imagine that you’re a squirrel…

 

Letters Between Gentlemen

by Professor Elemental and Nimue Brown, illustrated by Tom Brown

Letters Between Gentlemen

This was another “stay-up-all-night, just one more chapter okay make that two woops it’s one in the morning” read. I laughed on pretty much every page. At first, I wasn’t sure how the story was going to happen – the entire thing is told in correspondence between various characters and the letters seemed so completely random that I could not see how they were going to fit together. But happen it did, and somehow, against all logic, a brilliant narrative emerged. I bloody loved it! The characters were outrageous and brilliant. There were secret occult societies (with very similar names but quite different functions), rather intelligent mice, opium, explosions, deaths, some rather fun playing with gender and a hilarious detective story.  And tea. Quite a lot of tea. Altogether wonderful.

Rating: Read it, and avoid mixing the opium with the tea…

Of Sorrow and Such

by Angela Slatter

Of Sorrow and Such ANgela Slatter

Edda’s Meadow is a town like any other, smaller than some, larger than many.

And now for something completely different; this is the only Angela Slatter book I’ve read, and I’m reasonably sure that it fits into her other works (though I don’t know where, and I have yet to get my hands on them). It is an odd gem. Witchy books are my kryptonite (along with dragony books, queer fantasy books, free books, books with magic in…), and this was an especially interesting one. Part of what stood out for me was that we were in this tiny setting – Edda’s Meadow – which at first appeared calm. But then there were faultlines hidden everywhere, movement beneath the surface and things just waiting. It was remarkably atmospheric.

As witchy books go, this is a challenging one due to a) things being shit for women and b) things being shit for witches. However, I enjoyed the writing and the worldbuilding, the ways in which magic worked here, and SPOILER the ending was not terribly terribly tragic. END SPOILER. There’s a lot that feels unique in here, though it’s hard to put my finger on exactly what…

Rating: read it. Do not make dolls from bread.

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Book Review: Hopeless Maine by Tom and Nimue Brown (this review originally written for Pagan Dawn

Hopeless Maine by Tom and NImue Brown

Procession somber; pageant walked, shuffled, lurching to uncertainty.

This review first appeared in Pagan Dawn magazine.

Hopeless is an island that nobody can leave. Let that sink in; it’s a deeply layered bit of worldbuilding, and it’s reflective of the style of this book. Simple on the surface, yet with leviathans beneath.

On the surface, the story is of an orphan trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs: a common enough tale. Except the orphan is Salamandra, who’s not even sure what she is; she has magic, but she’s not witch material and the most likely option after that in Hopeless is monster. The strange and unfriendly world that she’s trying to navigate is full of mist and seabeasts and ghosts and ancient weirdness. She’s also quite happy to be an orphan, thanks.

With Hopeless, Maine Tom and Nimue Brown have created a world with a deep well of mythology, eerie and beautiful. It has a resonance similar to a fairytale or a legend (there is many a reference to spot). The artwork is exquisite – you could take any page, hang it on a wall and still find new things to look at weeks later – and the interplay between words and image and theme is incredible. I noticed that the book begins in plain black and white, fades into almost sepia with colour washes and bleeds into muted colour by the end. It gave me the impression of a fog gradually lifting.

There’s a sweet and biting sense of humour that runs through the entire book. There are invisible friends and demons and unhappy reverends and normal people trying to live their lives in truly extraordinary circumstances, and sometimes you can tell which is which. There is, against all logic, hope.

I could say a great deal about this book, but I do not have the space so what I will tell you is that I cried both times I read it and that I am planning to read it again. Because sometimes the world feels like a hopeless and inescapable place without sunlight, and how wonderful to see on page such an honest and imaginative tale of working through that. And one that made me laugh too!

I want to know more about every single character because they all seem to live very full lives beyond the pages. I want to puzzle over every odd end of myth that I picked up and laugh at the cooking classes. And I want more of Salamandra, persistently carving out a space for herself with charm and stubbornness.

Rating: read this book. Don’t make eye contact with the beasties.

Get more Hopeless on the blog here.

Book Review: When We Are Vanished by Nimue Brown

When We are Vanished by Nimue Brown, art by Tom Brown

No corpse.

This is a book with serious depth. I am already fifty pages into my second read of it, because I just know that there are things I didn’t quite get the first time round. When We Are Vanished is a beautiful, quietly kaleidoscopic piece of work. It has the feeling of a fever dream just before waking, when sleep logic and waking logic meet for a few moments. It also has a wonderful, sometimes sharp sense of humour that runs through the entire book and that had me chortling to myself at more than one point.

The story is set in a world where computers stopped working. In fact, all silicon-based tech is now useless. Most of the plot takes place some years after this has become the norm, and everything is crumbling away and being reclaimed by nature. The remaining people soldier on through the new normal, and rarely talk about what is happening. They do not, for example, talk about the people who vanish and leave nothing behind. They don’t talk about what happened. The new technology is based on tree cells, and it works pretty well except for when it really doesn’t. The whole set up is fantastically, oddly believable.

Amanda, Maria, Kim and Epona are our main characters. And oh my, did I love them! Not one, not two, not three but four female leads, who are related to each other (Amanda is the mother of the other three), and who are all very different people caught up in the same mystery. Having that amount of female leads was very exciting, especially because they had history with each other. It made me realise how rare it is to have family relationships between women that are central to the story. And their relationships were central; were up close and personal and included all the kinds of mess that comes with family even before we dig into the extra mess that happens when there are time loops and people vanishing and a possibly-prophetic self-help book.

There are other characters: Col: a driven, perhaps slightly mad scientist with a steam-powered car; Jerry: who should be less charming; Tish: a little bit mysterious. The book, How to Improve Your Life – the Merrily Method, felt rather like a character in its own right; a slightly ridiculous, increasingly threatening character who nevertheless meant well (or tried to). And the plot…. Well, it’s hard to review without spoilers, but I will say that it is delightful! It’s been a long time since I’ve encountered such an original take on time travel, and it was exciting to read something nearing science fiction that had nature so close to its heart. There are images that stick and scraps of sentences that refuse to leave. It reminded me, in some ways, of Woman on the Edge of Time: there’s this slight uncertainty about whether the world has gone mad, the character has gone mad, whether the world and the character are even separate or if it matters. When I got to the end, I turned straight back to the beginning to read it again.

As I said at the beginning, this is a work with some serious depth to it. If at all possible, I’d recommend reading it in one sitting (it’s 286 pages). It’s a very atmospheric work, with the slower pace that tends to accompany that, and you do have to actually think about things. However, if you’re interested in thoughtful speculative fiction that has some very interesting ideas about reality as well as strong characters and the single most hilarious interrogation scene that I’ve ever come across, this is for you.

Pretty much my only criticism is that the proofreading was a bit poor, and that’s a shame because it takes attention away from the writing (which is wonderful). Personally, I can soldier through bad proofreading when the writing itself is good, but I know some people find this really difficult. It’s a really personal thing, so I’m just going to say that I think it’s worth it.