Winter in Tabriz Book Review

Winter in Tabriz Sheila Llewellyn Book Review

Set against the backdrop of the 1978/9 Iranian Revolution, Winter in Tabriz by Sheila Llewllyn is a truly remarkable novel. In fact, it’s a very strong contender for Tales from Absurdia’s 2021 Book of the Year.

Winter in Tabriz is passionate, packed with beautifully written prose, and possesses a gut-punching ennui that lasts for quite some time once the final page has been turned.

Here’s why.

Love and Longing in Tabriz

Winter in Tabriz is one of the most beautifully written novels I’ve read in years.

There’s an unassuming warmth to Llewllyn’s prose that could draw any reader in. It’s like being regaled by an old friend – capturing that trusted and earnest sincerity. Some writers just have that innate ability to transform ink on the page into tangible people and places, and Llewellyn is one of them. 

The four main characters; Damian, Anna, Arash, and Reza are real people with real lives. The reader is privy to their inner lives in a way not not too many writers are able to achieve. We get to know their hopes, fears, loves, anxieties, grief, and political alignments in a manner that gives Winter in Tabriz a strong identity.

You needn’t be familiar with the Iranian Revolution either – Damian and Anna aren’t either. Through their deepening relationships with the Iranian Poet Arash and his older, more streetwise brother Reza, the reader’s world expands in line with their readings of the unfolding political crisis.

The novel is told through an expertly crafted framed narrative – with Damian brooding over the previous few years, alone, in an isolated German village. 

Poring over his own diary entries from his time at university in Berkeley, Anna’s in Oxford, and their collective experiences in Iran, the story knits together in a smart, revelatory manner. It’s a phenomenally immersive way of writing.

How Winter in Tabriz Negotiatates the Complex Politics of Iran

For many years, Iran was run by the Shah – a secular monarchy that moved away from traditional Islamic rule, in favour of more seemingly Western values. It was, regardless, a regime that enforced censorship and brutal policing. 

However, during the 1970s a movement gained momentum to return to a more traditionally Islamic rule of law – with those loyal to the then-exiled Ayatollah Khomeini attempting to bring about enough civil unrest against the Shah, that Khomeini might return to the country and take power.

The subject is far more complex than this, with a huge amount of division between those who identified as Iranian, Persian, and Azerbaijani. But in essence, Iran was largely in two camps, those who remained loyal to the Shah and his allegedly secular politics, and those who wanted to see Iran become an Islamic Republic under Khomeini. 

(Incidentally, Against The Compass has a great list of books on Iranian politics, should you wish to read more about this.)

Anyway, Winter in Tabriz covers the events of the Iranian Revolution through the eyes of two westerner translators, Damian and Anna, who find themselves in Iran in 1978 at the boiling point of the revolution. Damian through love, and Anna on a journey of emotional exorcism following a death in the family.

Thankfully, the novel doesn’t exaggerate for the reader’s consumption – Winter in Tabriz is a novel about the everyday. Sometimes, it’s simply about how four people in lockdown amidst civil disorder are able to negotiate the conflict simply to acquire food and drink whilst people are rioting in the streets. 

But it’s more meaningful than this too. Llewellyn’s novel is cartographic in its construction. The streets of Tabriz are lovingly detailed, from the university to the bazaar – the city’s hub of cultural and economic exchange.

It’s a remarkable journey, and a highly educational one at that.

Conclusion

The amount of research that has gone into this novel – which Llewellyn reveals in the appendices – is simply staggering. Llewellyn even draws upon her own experiences as a Westerner abroad in Iran during this exact period. 

And it shows – this is a novel that is highly authentic. It rewards its reader with a rich understanding of the cultural politics of a nation. 

It is, in a single word, remarkable.

Seriously – do not sleep on this book. It’s fantastic.

5/5

Winter in Tabriz is published by Sceptre Books and is available at Bookshop.org in paperback and hardback. 

Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My 2021 TBR for the Rest of the Year

I recently read an article on Kay’s Book Nook outlining the remaining books on her TBR for the rest of the year.

And after checking out her list, it seemed like a good excuse to get my own TBR organised for the rest of the year!

Without further ado – here is my remaining TBR for 2021.

Click or tap the book cover for more information!

T is for Time Travel, Stanlei Bellan

I don’t know too much about this one, except that it’s a collection of short stories about time travel. The author and his representatives reached out to me a couple of months ago asking if I was interested in reading & reviewing it.

Needless to say, the blurb sold me!

“In this collection of ten stories, author Stanlei Bellan takes you on a rollicking journey through the timestream.

  • Discover a lamp on the beach holding a genie that can grant you three…trips?
  • Meet a veteran soldier assisting a mad scientist who is convinced he’s created the first time machine; a harmless delusion – until it works.
  • Watch a 19th century lighthouse keeper find out what she’s willing to fight for, and then find a whole new world of trouble.
  • Explore the dangers of time looping aboard a spaceship with an ensign who is stuck between duty and his conscience. Would you make the same choices?

T Is for Time Travel is a fun and fast-paced collection of timely short stories that will introduce you to characters you’ll love, thrilling adventures, and thought-provoking scenarios – with plenty of laughs along the way.

Are you ready to jump in – whenever it may take you?”

Winter in Tabriz, Sheila Llewellyn

I adore what I’ve read so far. It’s a fascinating narrative, framed by globetrotting Irishman Damian, reflecting upon his time in Tabriz, Iran with friends Anna, Reza, and Arash.

Through Damian’s recounting of the past, through memory and through journal entries, the reader begins to piece together the events of the past few years. 

The prose is absolutely stunning, binding together a storm of passion, emotion, ennui, tragedy, nostalgia, and empathy. Based on what I’ve read so far, this will definitely be up there with my top books of 2021.

“Gripping and atmospheric, Winter in Tabriz tells the story of four young people living in Iran in the 1970s during the months immediately prior to the revolution, and the choices they have to make as a result of the ensuing upheaval.

The lives of Damian and Anna, both from Oxford University, become enmeshed with two Iranians, Arash, a poet, and his older brother Reza, a student sympathetic to the problems of the dissident writers in Iran, who is also a would-be photojournalist, interested in capturing the rebellion on the streets.

The novel draws on Sheila Llewellyn’s own experience of living in Tabriz through the winter of 1978, during the last chaotic months before the revolution took hold in January 1979.

It is a powerful portrayal of the fight for artistic freedom, young love and the legacies of conflict.”

Life is Strange, Emma Vieceli & Claudia Leonardi

Life is Strange is one of my favourite video games of all time. It’s an episodic graphic adventure game reminiscent of The Catcher in the Rye (the main character is even called Max Caulfield!), but with more modern social mores.

So, I was thrilled to see that the series of graphic novels, which look altogether fantastic, are set following the end of the events of the first game.

I’ve had this on my TBR for a while now (since last Christmas, in fact!) so I am absolutely determined to get started on this volume. My partner kindly bought me the hardback of Volume 1 for Christmas last year – it’s a beautiful looking graphic novel [ADD PICS]

“The story fans never thought they’d see, continuing the acclaimed story of Life is Strange, one of the hit game’s two shocking endings.

One year after the storm destroyed Arcadia Bay, fan-favourite characters Max and Chloe have a new life together… but timelines are starting to tangle.”

The Handsworth Times, Sharon Duggal

I was drawn to Sharon Duggal’s writing after attending one of the #BluemooseWomen2020 online events in which Sharon was a speaker.

Set in Handsworth, Birmingham, The Handsworth Times explores the day-to-day life of an Asian family in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.

I’m a big fan of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane – both novels that tell of immigrant families in inner city urban environments, adapting to their surroundings – they give me a perspective I’m typically not privy to.

You may have seen her latest novel, Should We Fall Behind, on BBC2’s Between the Covers book show with Sara Cox. I’ve heard great things about that one too.

“Mukesh Agarwal sits alone in the Black Eagle pub, unaware that a riot is brewing or that Billy, his youngest son, is still out on his bike …A mile away in the family home in Church Street, Anila, one of the three Agarwal girls, is reading Smash Hits and listening to Radio One as she sprawls across the bottom bunk, oblivious to the monumental tragedy that is about to hit her family …

It is 1981 and Handsworth is teetering on the brink of collapse. Factories are closing, unemployment is high, the National Front are marching and the neglected inner cities are ablaze as riots breakout across Thatcher’s fractured Britain. The Agarwals are facing their own nightmares but family, pop music, protest, unexpected friendships and a community that refuses to disappear all contribute to easing their personal pain, and that of Handsworth itself.

THE HANDSWORTH TIMES is a story of loss and transition, and pulling together because ultimately, there is such a thing as society.”

Captain Jesus, Colette Snowden

Another of Bluemoose’s talented authors, Captain Jesus is a book I’m dead excited to read. I actually bought this on release day to support the author, Colette Snowden, but I’m yet to read it.

Here’s a flavour of it:

When three brothers find a dead magpie and peg it to the washing line, the resurrection re-enactment becomes a portent of tragedy to come, and a reminder of past guilt and trauma. 

In Captain Jesus we see a family struggle to cope as loss rips through their lives; through the teenage eyes of their mother, twenty years earlier, we glimpse the events that shape her response. 

The icons, influences and family histories that define faith connect the two narratives as the family gradually heals, thanks to the quietness of love and the natural world.

Red Pill, Hari Kunzru

I bought this book by author Hari Kunzru after attending the wonderful Desi Blitz book festival in 2020. Kunzru spoke about his research of alt-right conspiracy groups on the internet.

Red Pill is about a regular guy, Brooklyn-based, who gets roped into a Q Anon-esque conspiracy ring. It’s a novel about how easily someone, if given the wrong information, can be radicalised.

“After receiving a prestigious writing fellowship in Germany, the narrator of Red Pill arrives in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee and struggles to accomplish anything at all. Instead of working on the book he has proposed to write, he takes long walks and binge-watches Blue Lives–a violent cop show that becomes weirdly compelling in its bleak, Darwinian view of life–and soon begins to wonder if his writing has any value at all.

Wannsee is a place full of ghosts: Across the lake, the narrator can see the villa where the Nazis planned the Final Solution, and in his walks he passes the grave of the Romantic writer Heinrich von Kleist, who killed himself after deciding that no happiness was possible here on earth.

When some friends drag him to a party where he meets Anton, the creator of Blue Lives, the narrator begins to believe that the two of them are involved in a cosmic battle, and that Anton is red-pilling his viewers–turning them toward an ugly, alt-rightish worldview–ultimately forcing the narrator to wonder if he is losing his mind.”

The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time Book 1), Robert Jordan

I’ve been wanting to read Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series for years, trying and currently failing, to find some fantasy that can hold a candle to Tolkien.

With Amazon set to release a Wheel of Time TV adaption in November 2021, I’d like to try and read at least the first novel in the series before it comes out. After all – I find it preferable to read the book before watching the TV show.

“The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

When The Two Rivers is attacked by Trollocs-a savage tribe of half-men, half-beasts- five villagers flee that night into a world they barely imagined, with new dangers waiting in the shadows and in the light.”

Winterset Hollow, Jonathan Edward Durham

I think it’s fair to say that Winterset Hollow is by far and away the most interesting proposition on my TBR list.

The author reached out to me a short while ago with an epic pitch so, despite my submissions being closed, I simply had to take him up on it.

It’s a difficult book to summarise, with some fascinating meta elements and anthropomorphism implied by what I’ve read so far. 

Here’s the blurb – it’s a good’un!

“Everyone has wanted their favorite book to be real, if only for a moment. Everyone has wished to meet their favorite characters, if only for a day. But be careful in that wish, for even a history laid in ink can be repaid in flesh and blood, and reality is far deadlier than fiction . . . especially on Addington Isle.

Winterset Hollow follows a group of friends to the place that inspired their favorite book-a timeless tale about a tribe of animals preparing for their yearly end-of-summer festival. But after a series of shocking discoveries, they find that much of what the world believes to be fiction is actually fact, and that the truth behind their beloved story is darker and more dangerous than they ever imagined.

It’s Barley Day… and you’re invited to the hunt.”

Step Forward Harry Salt, Rose Lowe

The final book on my 2021 TBR is Step Forward, Harry Salt by the delightfully pleasant Ross Lowe.

I found out about Lowe’s debut novel through his publisher Bearded Badger Publishing & Books – a local outfit based not too far from me.

Being a novel with a local angle – and the opportunity to support a local press – this is one I’m super excited about.

“Something strange is afoot in the Derbyshire hills. But what does that mean for Harry Salt? He’s a young man with a big secret. So big, that the Prime Minister wants a piece of him.

Trouble is, it’s such a deeply buried secret that Harry doesn’t even know about it.But when he starts his new job at the Ministry of People and the anxious UK prepares for The Change, things get steadily more strange and frightening.

Dreams filled with painful memories and snarling black dogs. Endless ham baguettes. A 900-year-old Starsky & Hutch addict. Murderous lollipop ladies and milkmen that bite.

Yes. Something is definitely up.

It’s time to Step Forward, Harry Salt.”

Any of these on your TBR? Read them already? Let me know your thoughts on them in the comments below!

Dune Messiah Book Review

Dune Messiah Book Review

Dune Meh-siah

Title: Dune Messiah
Author: Frank Herbert
Pages:
304
Published by: Hodder & Stoughton (1969)

Oh dear.

Dune Messiah is a mess of a book.

It successfully achieves the stunning feat of being half the length of its predecessor, whilst reading as if it’s three times as long.

The biggest crime that Dune Messiah commits, however, is that it’s tedious and boring. Sci-Fi is meant to fill you with wonder, awe, and excitement about the fantastical possibilities of science, whereas this is like reading the phone book backwards.

And that’s frustrating because the world itself, the ‘Duniverse’, is actually wonderfully creative.

He's not the Messiah, He's a Very Naughty Boy

At the end of Dune, our hero Paul Atreides braved the desert of Arrakis (or Dune) and raised an army of Fremen against the Emperor – installing himself as the top guy.

The beginning of Dune Messiah tells of the Jihad that saw Paul’s Fremen conquer the galaxy and exterminate 16 billion people in the process. Grim, but nonetheless fascinating.

So Herbert, naturally, decided to gloss over this huge moment in history and start Dune Messiah 12 years later. It’s baffling.

This isn’t the rollicking narrative-driven epic of Dune – the novel is a study of how bureaucracy and deification can lead to the downfall of governments.

Not particularly thrilling. 

But that’s exactly what this is – bureaucracy in print. Here’s an example of what to expect:

“Production growth and income growth must not get out of step in my Empire. That is the substance of my command. There are to be no balance-of-payment difficulties between the different spheres of influence. And the reason for this is simply because I command it.” 

The novel is full of menial prose like this. 

It’s jam-packed with pseudo-intellectual musings on government and religion, internal monologues sprawling all over the place, and dialogue goes absolutely nowhere.

Still, it’s not all bad. Herbert’s a smart guy and, as ever, there are some great quotes.

And much like Dune, Dune Messiah holds a mirror up to the reader, challenging their real-world views.

Meanwhile, the world remains a fascinating place, and additions such as the Tleilaxu faction – an engineering race – and the Gholans, add another excellent layer of lore.

Conclusion

Perhaps Frank Herbert sought to write a metatext, the prose as bureaucratic as the themes in the text. But I bet he didn’t.

Instead, Dune Messiah takes all of the worst parts of Dune and consolidates them into a 300 page book. 

Woeful, tedious for long stretches, and saved only by the fact that the world of its predecessor remains in-tact and a thoroughly interesting setting – I cannot and do not recommend Dune Messiah.

1/5

Dune Messiah is available at Bookshop.org in paperback and hardback. 

Dune Book Review

In a galaxy far, far away…

George Lucas is reading Frank Herbert’s Dune.

Upon closing the final pages, Lucas happens upon a groundbreaking idea. Totally unique. 

A space opera, set upon the backdrop of a desert planet, about warriors in tune with powerful cognitive abilities. A young mentat Jedi, faced by tragedy, is forced to undergo training in order to prepare himself for a fight against space fascists.

And thus Star Wars was born.

(Now, to be clear, and to avoid a tedious exchange in the comments section, I am being mildly facetious – but the similarities between Dune and Star Wars are rather striking).

The good news here is that if you enjoy Star Wars (the original trilogy anyway), you’ll probably enjoy Dune too!

But back to the serious stuff.

Desert Power

The house of Atreides, previously of Caladan (a planet similar to Earth), is tasked with ruling the fiefdom of Arrakis – an inhospitable desert planet that just happens to provide the only source of melange (a rare spice) in the universe. 

To put this in perspective, the spice is akin to oil in our own times – highly sought after, difficult to mine, and often the source of conflict. Whereas the Atreides relied on water and wind power on Caladan, desert power reigns on Arrakis – known also as Dune.

Frank Herbert’s first entry in the so-called ‘Duniverse’, is the coming of age story of Paul Atreides – a man who’s descent from comfort and privilege into hardship is an undeniably compelling tale.

Along the way, Herbert examines complex topics such as planetary ecology and the politics of empire. Throw in some religious fervour and autocracy onto an already burning pyre, and you’ll get a glimpse into the world of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

The fascinating thing about this novel is that it’s Sci-Fi, but draws heavily upon fantasy, Shakespearean tragedy, Islamic mythology, and philosophy. Just to ensure it’s not too high brow, Herbert includes giant space worms because of reasons.

It’s a highly intellectual novel and surprisingly, aside from some of the writing getting in the way of a good story, it works exceptionally well.

The characters too are excellent, for the most part, with minstrel Gurney Halleck, swordmaster Duncan Idaho, and Lady Jessica of the Bene Gesserit being the real standouts. Gurney in particular acts as a delightful opposite to Paul’s serious, christ-like demeanour.

And then there’s Feyd-Rautha – a cruel, violent warrior with a predilection for poison, and member of the Harkonnens (the Atriedes’ rival house). He is delightfully cruel – a snarling, vicious individual who I only wish Herbert had spent more time writing about.

The Various Influences of Dune

In case it isn’t yet apparent, Dune is a highly thoughtful novel and like all the best Sci-Fi, it holds a mirror up to the reader, asking them to examine their own contemporary world. And bar a particularly orientalist presentation of the Fremen, the ideas and political discourse of Dune have aged well.

What perhaps hasn’t aged well is the pacing and writing. This is a novel that rewards patience. 

Enormous amounts of patience. 

Herbert has a tendency to overwrite dialogue to the point of tedium. And unfortunately, there’s a lot of it. Meanwhile the purple prose can grate. There’s also a lot of philosophical musing and portents of fate that couch banal writing behind the illusion of intellectuality. 

Still, Dune absolutely rewards the patient reader with an utterly enthralling final third. A true epic in every sense of the word, it’s easy to see why Frank Herbert’s novel is a Sci-Fi classic.

Of course, with Dune being such a seminal piece of writing – its own influences upon contemporary SFF culture and creativity are obvious for all to see. The world-building, for example, is phenomenal. 

So phenomenal in fact that Star Wars, and even Games Workshop’s own Warhammer 40k universe, borrow from it quite significantly.

Conclusion

Dune is one the most ambitious Sci-Fi novels I’ve read so far – or rather in this case, listened to, having downloaded the Audible edition. 

It’s a bit of a strange production, sometimes feeling like an audio drama – at other times an audiobook. I wasn’t entirely sold on this edition.

Regardless, the story, characters, and depth of world-building are standout successes. 

Yes, long stretches of the middle section drag, but Dune is a unique piece of writing with some phenomenal moments. 

It’s is also packed with some absolutely belting quotes such as “No more terrible disaster could befall your people than for them to fall into the hands of a Hero” – no doubt alluding to the events of the sequel, Dune Messiah.

If you love Sci-Fi, you need to read Dune. If you love fantasy, you need to read Dune. But really, this is a novel that any reader with a healthy scoop of patience should enjoy quite nicely.

4/5

Dune is available at Bookshop.org in paperback and hardback. 

Why The Midnight Library is an Existential Classic

Why The Midnight Library is an Existential Classic

Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library was easily one of my favourite books of 2020 – beaten out for Book of the Year by Heidi James’ utterly impeccable The Sound Mirror.

Why no review then, I hear you ask?

Well, the back end of 2020 was a tough time for this purveyor of bookish reviews – my first child was born, which is obviously far more important. Plus, after a long day in a stressful new job, I barely had time for writing.

Consider this gushing article a present atonement for my lack of a review.

So, what is The Midnight Library actually about?

Nora Seed, our protagonist, is done with life.

Not in a ‘whew, what a bad day – time for a bath, bottle of wine, and a book’ kind of done with life, but a depressive spiralling into suicidal thoughts.

And Nora actually succeeds in killing herself.

It’s a depressing premise, for sure. 

However, like most of Matt Haig’s writing, a remarkably prescient insight into a person’s mental health struggles runs throughout the book. 

Haig knows that not all depressives are made the same; we all possess various quirks and triggers, plus we’re all different people harbouring wildly varying life experiences.

But where Haig finds a commonality is through the Midnight Library itself.

Upon death, Nora finds herself in a library. A library packed full of her life experiences in books, all branching into various future realities depending on the decisions she made.

In short, she’s offered another chance at life by the librarian of the Midnight Library. Nora can pick as many books as she wants, experiencing these separate realities, hopping across lives that have been and could be, before being offered the option to settle into a satisfactory, preferable life.

This idea – the ability to rewrite decisions made – is what unites depressives.

Looking back is the nature of the beast when it comes to depression. We’ve all stopped and pondered the consequences of decisions made – both macro and micro – wondering whether we’d be more content if only X had happened, or if one hadn’t let go of a friend at a certain point in time.

The Midnight Library taps into the ifs, buts, and maybes that plague one’s life – allowing the reader to play out their fantasy of rewriting the past through Nora’s own experiences. 

What is the central message of The Midnight Library?

Haig’s novel is a beautiful, yet sombre exploration of the oh-so-familiar ennui of anxiety, depression, and memory that many face at various points in their lives.

But it’s not all angst. There’s an enduring message inside this book too:

'Carpe Diem'

Carpe diem isn’t just an excellent bar in Leeds – it’s actually Latin for ‘seize the day’.

The Midnight Library reminds the reader that imagined realities are often a smokescreen. For a start, they don’t exist – and therefore neither do any of the downsides or consequences of this life. It’s totally imaginary.

You can overanalyse your own actions, as depressives do; vivisecting one’s self on the altar of self-reflectiveness. Or, you can take your life as it is, warts and all. Mould it, influence it, and – in somewhat of an Absurdist manner – live your life in spite of the shortcomings and create art that parodies your own mortal condition.

In short, just live.

Tell me more about your experiences of The Midnight Library in the comments below 👇

Ringlander: The Path and the Way Book Review

Ringlander The Path and the Way Book Cover

Ringlander: The Path and the Way – the debut fantasy novel from Michael S. Jackson – is an absolute riot.

Set in Rengas, a continent dominated by conflict, the occupying & brutish Bohr seek to quash an ongoing rebellion from the native human population. Meanwhile, an astral war engulfs the cosmos above, with the world torn apart by competing realities.

Sound complex? At first, it does come across a little abstract.

However, Jackson’s brilliant writing guides the reader deftly, navigating the various factions of Rengas, from the Tsiorc rebels to the Pathfinders of the North.

This is a fantasy novel with a truly original lore – and that’s a really exciting prospect for future entries in the series.

Overview – Ringlander: The Path and the Way

Fantasy lives or dies by three key elements: world-building, characters, and narrative.

And from the beginning, it’s clear that a lot of love has gone into Ringlander. It’s a well-realised world, with its own terminology and detailed topography. For this reason, both a map and glossary are included. These are welcome additions, designed to assist the reader in their journey through Rengas.

The glossary is oddly selective, however. More often than I would have liked, I’d consult the glossary, only to find that the entry I was looking for was conspicuously absent. It’s not a deal-breaker, as the novel does a decent job of introducing the reader to its concepts, but more definitions would have been welcome.

As for the characters – they’re an impressionable, well-drawn bunch for the most part. Kyria, Fia, Jagar, and Iqaluk are certainly explored in more detail than perhaps some of the supporting characters, for example. Nonetheless, I was impressed how Ringlander’s characters largely break free of the more overt fantasy tropes. 

Kyria and Atalfia, for example, are genuinely compelling in their own right, demonstrating charisma, single-mindedness, and courage. Nor do they require approval from their male counterparts. Plus they’re thankfully freed of the far-too-familiar shackles of hyper-sexualisation, which was welcoming to read. Meanwhile, Jagar, the banéman, remains an unsettling menace, whilst Rathe – half-Bohr, half human – experiences a particularly interesting arc.

The narrative presented is solid. Early on, it’s a little confusing whilst the reader acclimatises to the world. You may find yourself flicking to and fro between the map & the glossary. However, the patient reader is rewarded by a scintillating ending of drama that teases a sequel.

Conclusion

The first installment in Ringlander’s universe is a fantastic read. It’s clear, concise, and compelling.

Ringlander is a well-written fantasy novel, highly descriptive (though not obtusely so), and the prose reads exceptionally well. It’s liberating to read a fantasy novel that gets its point across in under 500 pages, avoiding the usual prevarication and overly descriptive writing associated with the genre.

The narrative is decent, the characters well-rounded, and the world-building impressive for a debut effort. And with additional books planned in the future, watch this space – I’ll certainly be checking out Jackson’s future entries in the world of Rengas!

4/5

Ringlander: The Path and the Way is available in at Amazon in paperback, hardback, or as part of Kindle Unlimited.

Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.

One Key Reason to Read the Book Before the Movie

Why You Should Read the Book Before the Movie Blog Header

‘Why read the book when you could just watch the movie?’

You’ve likely been asked this from one or two of your slightly less bookish friends.

It’s one of those moments where you’ve got a whole range of reasons lined up to explain why, but don’t wish to sound unkind.

But to be fair, there are plenty of very good reasons why someone might wish to experience the movie first. Here are a handful.

Reading is Daunting

For some, the prospect of opening a book at the end of the working day is just not desirable. For those who haven’t made reading a part of their life, it’s a hard sell when there’s an easier option.

People don’t like to feel stupid or vulnerable, and reading – being such a basic life skill – can make them feel that way if it’s something that isn’t part of their daily routine.

In that respect, it’s often easier to settle down and watch a movie.

The movie is shorter

(Unless it’s the Hobbit trilogy *snicker*)

But in all seriousness, the point of movie adaptations – other than making all of the moneys – is to create a more digestible form of media.

It stands to reason that some may prefer this method of media consumption – even if those of us in the book blogging community may not.

Credit: Reddit.com

Prefer the experience

Let’s be honest – there’s something spectacular about watching a movie on the big screen. The overpriced popcorn and coke taste automatically better than they ought to – plus you’re often with your mates. Watching a movie is a social experience.

Alternatively, with a home cinema setup with 4K, surround sound, and all the bells & whistles, it’s hard to not find that an inherently sexy way of experiencing media.

Compare that with the humble setting of you, yourself, and a battered paperback. Sure, it’s charming, but it’s at least understandable why some might prefer the big screen.

Struggling with reading

My brother loves reading, but as someone with learning difficulties, he sometimes struggles to follow the words without a visual cue.

For him, watching a movie first gives him the understanding of the outline of the plot – and who the characters are.

Then, when he reads the book, he already has a contextual knowledge of what’s happening on the page. This actually allows him to enjoy the book far more than going in without a point of reference.

And if that means he’s able to get more enjoyment from the book, who are we to judge?

Watching the movie can be an entry point into reading the book

Let’s not forget – it doesn’t need to be one or the other.

Look at Game of Thrones (the TV show). It was a television phenomenon that actually made people far more interested in picking up G.R.R.M.’s novels. I can think of a handful of people who don’t typically read, who picked up the box set and were making steady progress.

To return to the movie angle – plenty of people were enthralled by the cliffhanger ending of Catching Fire, and simply could not wait for the Mockingjay movies to come out. So they read the books.

Here's why you should read the book before the movie, however...

As discussed, there are a bevy of reasons why people might watch the movie adaptation first.

However, by doing so, you miss out on a one-time joy that you’ll never, ever be able to replicate again.

Experiencing a story free of bias.

When you read a book for the first time, your imagination fills in the details. Your idea of a setting & how characters look will inevitably differ to another reader’s.

Reading is an act of creation. Every time you open a book, without prior experience of the world contained within, the reader creates a textual palimpsest; another layer of fictionality that watching a movie robs the reader of.

Remember – a movie is one person’s interpretation of the source material. Watching that, without having read the book, robs the reader of their creative agency – and from a reading perspective, that’s quite tragic.

What are your thoughts? Do you try to read the book before the movie, or the other way around? Leave a comment and let me know!

Alien: Out of the Shadows Review (Audible)

Alien Out of the Shadows Audiobook Review

Alien: Out of the Shadows is a novel, audiobook, and – in this particular case – an Audible audio drama.

Set between Alien and Aliens, the first two movies, Tim Lebbon’s take on the Alien universe pits the crew of the Marion against a Xenomorph invasion upon a mining colony.

Respectful of the source material, whilst carving out its own path, Alien: Out of the Shadows is a thoroughly impressive production.

With a phenomenal cast, excellent sound engineering, and a solid narrative, this Audible audio drama is well worth your time.

Xeno Evil, Hear no Evil

In a tense, horror-like series like Alien, immersion is paramount so I was utterly thrilled by the production value of Out of the Shadows.

This is definitely one to listen to with your headphones on, rather than through speakers (bonus points if you have headphones with binaural audio!)

All of the classic sci-fi audio cues are here.

Metal clangs satisfyingly, sliding doors whirr open, and lift shafts judder and moan in their decrepitude. Meanwhile, – the protagonists’ voices echo authentically in the depths of the mining colony.

Occasionally you’ll hear the Aliens chitter away in the background, signalling their closer proximity. Always a threat.

Alien Out of the Shadows Book Review Spaceship
The menacing depths of the mining colony

And then there’s the voice acting, of which I’m not sure the English language possesses enough superlatives. Seriously – the cast is incredible.

Is Alien: Out of the Shadows a classic?

Out of the Shadows presents an enjoyable tale. Not wholly original, but thrilling nonetheless. However, it’s the characters that make it a success.

You’ll immediately recognise a familiar voice in Matthew Lewis (of Neville Longbottom fame). Lewis puts in a fantastic performance as Baxter.

Laurel Lefkow as Ripley is inspired. I actually had to pause and triple-check that Sigourney Weaver wasn’t in the credits. Amazing.

Meanwhile, Rutger Hauer plays a menacing AI – thwarting our heroes/fodder at every step. Again, an impeccably sinister performance. 

The crew themselves are good fun, with Hooper as the leader; voiced strongly by Corey Johnson.

Ripley & Jonesy Alien Out of the Shadows
Yes - Jonesy returns for another outing

Lachance is really great fun too, adding levity to an increasingly stressful journey, whilst Sneddon has easily the best arc in the narrative. 

Typically in this genre, characters are introduced simply to die. It’s therefore pleasantly surprising that the wider cast aren’t just ‘Alien fodder’ –  they’re an entertaining cast in their own right.

Out of the Shadows is packed with Alien tropes and fan service, but it doesn’t feel gimmicky. In fact, it’s a brilliant entry that’s on par with Ridley Scott’s movies.

There are even some neat references to the wider universe, including Alien: Isolation – the excellent survival horror video game starring Amanda Ripley (seriously, if you’re an Alien fan – or just a survival horror fan – you need to pick up a copy of that game).

Conclusion

With ten episodes at around 28 minutes each, Alien: Out of the Shadows is a really addictive listen. It has that quintessential ‘just one more episode’ vibe, which so many TV shows try (and ultimately fail) to capture.

If you’re an Alien fan – you’ll love this. And even if you aren’t an Alien purist, there’s a lot to appreciate here. Certainly more than the movies Fox has released in recent years.

The cast is wonderful, the narrative works as an efficient vehicle for the characters, and this Audible production is of the absolute highest quality.

I can’t wait to listen to it again, and I strongly encourage anyone reading this review to do so too!

And if audio dramas aren’t for you, the book is included in Amazon’s generous Kindle Unlimited programme.

4/5

You can listen to the entirety of Alien: Out of the Shadows for free, with a trial at Audible.

What it Feels Like for a Girl Book Review

Paris Lees Memoirs Book Review

Paris Lees is a journalist, model, and now a published author. 

Known for being the first transgender columnist for Vogue, What if Feels Like for a Girl is a memoir of her formative years in Hucknall, Nottingham. It’s even written in a Hucknall dialect!

Paris Lees’ book is remarkable. It’s an uplifting and empowering memoir of self-identity. It’s smart, witty, and authentic. However, it’s also filled with immense sadness, including stories of physical & emotional abuse.

There are very few books that make you want to laugh, cry, despair, cringe, and shout out for joy all in one chapter, but What It Feels Like for a Girl is one of them.

Through chapters named after popular songs at the time (feel good inc. / smack my bitch up / scream if you wanna go faster, etc…), Paris recounts her experiences through the prism of Byron – named after Nottingham’s own son, Lord Byron.

From being beaten up in Hucknall town centre for being a ‘poof’, to her wild nights in Nottingham with the Fallen Divas, eventual imprisonment, and beyond – the book charts her awakening as Paris in a lucid, highly self-aware way.

Numerous times, Byron – and then Paris – reflects upon why they can’t simply be treated as they are, rather than who society wants them to be.

What It Feels Like for a Girl Lord Byron
The eponymous Byron - the world's first 'rock star' poet (1788 - 1824)

Through What It Feels Like for a Girl, Paris holds a mirror up to the world, highlighting its treatment of trans people and, of course, what it means to be a girl.

Why What it Feels Like for a Girl Isn't A Trans Memoir

Both in newspaper articles, and in an excellent discussion on Owen Jones’s podcast, Paris has expressed frustration at the expectations surrounding this book.

Many (not unreasonably, to be fair) expected it to be a trans memoir, covering all of the details surrounding her transition. 

Her point is that Michelle Obama’s memoir isn’t a ‘woman book’, nor is David Cameron’s memoir a ‘man book’, so why should hers be a ‘trans book’?

It’s a fair point and well made.

But if this is not a trans memoir, discussing the ins-and-outs of Paris’s transition, then what is it?

Paris Lees promoting What It Feels Like for a Girl
Paris Lees promoting What It Feels Like for a Girl

Well, it’s the story of a working class East Midlands family coming to terms (or not) with the fact that their child is trans. 

It’s about Paris discovering her own identity, embracing it, and posing incisive, critical questions about British society’s tolerance of trans people in the early 2000s. 

And it’s about female empowerment and Paris taking control of her life.

Lots of love has gone into writing of What It Feels Like for a Girl, and it shows. 

Conclusion

What It Feels Like for a Girl is is a terrific book, and I’d strongly urge any of my readers to pick up a copy.

It presents a lens for which a reader, of any background, can get a glimpse into the LGBTQ+ experience in the late ’90s / early ’00s East Midlands. In this respect, it makes for a highly educational book, fostering empathy and understanding in the reader.

I grew up in Nottingham too, living there for 25 years of my life though admittedly on the more privileged end of the city. And in this respect, What It Feels Like for a Girl has given me a fresh perspective on a place I thought I knew inside-out – and that’s quite special.

To conclude, this is an excellent memoir. It’s a tough read at times, and the content can be quite distressing, but it remains an inspirational piece of writing and an essential read.

5/5

Paris Lees’ What It Feels Like for a Girl is available to buy at Bookshop.org.