On my shelf: short story collections.

In which I delve into the books on my 'to be read' shelves. Today: Short story collections...

In her provocative debut Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado demolishes the borders between magical realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. Startling narratives map the realities of women's lives and the violence visited on their bodies, both in myth and in practice.

Nowhere is Patricia Highsmith more edgy than in these mordantly hilarious sketches that make up Little Tales of Misogyny.Here you'll meet seemingly familiar women with the power to destroy both themselves and the men around them. In these stories Highsmith is at her most scathing as she draws out the mystery and menace of her once ordinary subject.

Sour Heart is centred on a community of immigrants who have traded their endangered lives as artists in China and Taiwan for the constant struggle of life at the poverty line in 1990s New York City, Zhang’s collection examines the many ways that family and history can weigh us down and also lift us up.

Though perhaps most famous as a novelist, Philip K. Dick wrote more than one hundred short stories over the course of his career, each as mind-bending and genre-defining as his longer works. Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams collects ten of the best.

Children of the New World grapples with our unease in this modern world and how our ever-growing dependence on new technologies has changed the shape of our society. Alexander Weinstein is a visionary new voice in speculative fiction for all of us who are fascinated by and terrified of what we might find on the horizon.

In How Much the Heart Can Hold, seven award-winning authors explore seven concepts of love: from Philautia, self-love, to Agape, love for humanity; and from Storge, a natural affection for family, to Mania, a frenzied, obsessive love.

Sensual, yearning, and filled with the tricks of memory and grief, Record of a Night Too Brief is an atmospheric trio of unforgettable tales.In these three haunting and lyrical stories, three young women experience unsettling loss and romance.

The Book of Tokyo collects ten stories by some of Japan's most exciting and revered contemporary short story writers. Together, the stories form a kind of literary map of this vast and ever-changing city's districts - an imaginative tour of the city for short story fans and travellers alike.

Small pleasures 2.

Sometimes it's good to celebrate the little things, so here are some of my small pleasures over the last couple of weeks or so...

1. The relief of finishing and submitting the worst uni assignment ever!
2. Pancake day
3. Having an early Spring clean
4. Catching up with some comic reading
5. Getting some nice earrings in Primark
6. A Sunday lie in and no work
7. Escape the Room games
8. Playing 'prop game' in Call of Duty
9. Having a walk in the forest
10. Attempting yoga on my new purple yoga matt.

Lots of highlighters to get me through uni work!
Comics and coffee
Finding a 1990 My Little Pony Annual!
My earrings from Primark.

This past week hasn't been too great so it's important more than ever to focus on the positives however small. Right now my mental health is taking a dip so I am attempting to try  and stay strong and make a few changes. 
Sending love and support to anyone else struggling right now.

Blog tour: The Binding Song by Elodie Harper

Dr Janet Palmer is the new lead psychologist at HMP Halvergate in a remote, bleak area of Norfolk. At first, she was excited by the promotion. Then she starts to see how many secrets are hiding behind the high walls.

A string of inmates have committed suicide, leaving no reasons why, and her predecessor has disappeared - along with his notes. The staff are hostile, the threat of violence is ever-present, and there are rumours of an eyeless woman stalking the corridors, punishing the inmates for their sins.

Janet is determined to find out what is really going on. But the longer she stays and the deeper she digs, the more uncertain she feels.

Halvergate is haunted by something. But it may be a terror worse than ghosts...

My thoughts...

As soon as I saw the protagonist was a psychologist I was interested! The bleak atmosphere is well set as Janet starts her new job and finds everyone unwelcoming- I could really empathise with her. 

It didn't take too long for me to work out where the book was going and there was really one main twist. Although there was a tense build up it was also kind of slow- personally I enjoyed reading about Janet's job as prison psychologist but in terms of it being a thriller it did take it's time to build up to something. I also enjoyed the occasional switch to the voice of Steven the prison chaplain. 

There were a few niggles in this book for me. The first being that the story relied on a lot on coincidences... I mean pretty much the whole story hung on them. Also there was a part where it was revealed a character had been murdered by someone diagnosed with schizophrenia. I always get annoyed when mental illness is used as the cause/plot point for being a violent murderer, and feel it perpetuates negative stigma (here's some info about schizophrenia and violence). I also found Janet's behaviour a little puzzling at times, particularly for an intelligent, experienced doctor of her field. 

One thing I did enjoy was the gothic feel of the writing, and the descriptions of Norfolk in Winter time. Overall this book never totally grabbed me, but it was well written, and definitely and intriguing idea. I gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads. 

Below Elodie has kindly written a piece about the settings in The Binding Song...

Imagining Norfolk (Written by author Elodie Harper) 

Norfolk, where THE BINDING SONG is set, is a character in its own right.  Alien, flat and with its own quiet menace, the landscape is seen almost entirely through the eyes of the book’s protagonist, Dr Janet Palmer.
         Janet’s reaction to Norfolk is not mine, and the Norfolk she lives in is not always the one you can visit by driving to the end of the A11.  Some of it used to exist, but no longer does: the Gallery on St Giles Street which Steven Finch lives above (as I once did) is no longer there, and the eerie drive through the Elveden estate has since been diverted to a more convenient but less atmospheric dual carriageway.  Other locations I invented entirely:  the village of Halverton, HMP Halvergate itself, or Great Yarmouth General Hospital.  But some of the places are real – and very close to my heart.  Here are five of them...

The Acle Strait.  The road which cuts through Halvergate marshes to Great Yarmouth is one of the most evocative drives in the county.  It’s somewhat off the tourist trail, and often snarled up with traffic, but on a clear drive when the early morning mist rises from the marshes and ancient church spires fade to blue against the endless flat horizon, you feel like you are driving through a painting by an Old Dutch Master.

Franks Bar, Norwich.  Steven Finch ends up on a date here.  If you visit, you’ll find there are still tee lights in teapots, books propped everywhere and a fairground horse halfway up one wall.  Quirky and relaxed, I’ve always loved it.

Winterton-on-Sea.  Janet visits the village and hates it.  This is how she sees it in the snow: “Janet slammed the door, her parked car rocking gently behind her.  It was bitingly cold and the wind cut at her ears like a razor.  There was an ugliness about the freezing grey water, the way it churned a path up the snowy shore and left behind a dark slop of sand and stones.  A few hardy souls were out walking, but even from the relative shelter of the dunes, she was finding the wind unbearable.”
         All I can say is, don’t believe Janet.  This is one of my favourite spots on the Norfolk coast, much less visited (and busy) than its more famous neighbours.  If you go, you will find an extraordinarily vast stretch of beach and a lunar landscape of dunes.  Janet’s not lying about the wind in winter, though.

Great Yarmouth.  Steven visits the town off season purely for the chips.  As have I.  There are several market stalls devoted purely to frying chips and nothing else: they’re amazing.  A cameraman colleague told me once as we sat scoffing a bag-full in his car, that the vinegar cuts through the grease meaning you can’t get fat.  Must be true.

St Giles Street, Norwich.  When I first worked at ITV Anglia I walked to work every morning from a rented studio flat on this street (it didn’t look anything like Steven’s place inside – although it did also face the old YMCA).  I love this part of the city.  The Waffle House, the independent jewellery stores, the church – you will find them all there waiting for you just as the book describes.

Also coming in July is the second book from Elodie Harper: The Death Knock! 
The gripping story of a journalist on the hunt for a serial killer...

[Huge thanks to Rosie at Hodder & Stoughton for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.]

Shell's guide to... Black Canary

The next instalment of my guides to. Previously: Catwoman and Batgirl.

1. Black Canary was one of DC Comics first female super heroes, first appearing in Flash comics #86 in 1947 as the alter ego of Dinah Drake.

2.  In that issues she appeared as a fishnet and leather jacket wearing villain who is later revealed to be infiltrating a criminal gang.

3. The following year she was given her own origin story which depicted her as a florist in love with police detective Larry Lance! She then joins the Justice Society of America and appears in All Star Comics as part of the team.

4. Black Canary was brought back again in the 1960s featuring in DC's parallel universe Earth-2. Married to Lance she takes part in team ups of the Justice Society with Earth-1's Justice League (JLA).

5. In a 1969 story Larry Lance is killed saving Dinah's life. Stricken with grief Dinah moves to Earth-1 and joins the Justice League. 

6. She begins a relationship with fellow JLA member Green Arrow. Around this time Dinah discovers her power: an ultrasonic scream known as the canary cry that is strong enough to cut through metal.

7. Throughout the 1970s Black Canary makes guest appearances in Batman and is a regular sidekick to Green Arrow in Action Comics.

8. In the early 1980's Dinah's backstory was further explained. It was pretty complicated and involved her and Lance having a daughter that got cursed and was suspended in animation. During the battle that kills Larry, Dinah gets radiation poisoning. As she is dying she asks to see her daughter one last time. Dinah wishes her daughter could take the mantle of Black Canary. Thanks to Superman and Thunderbolt, Dinah's memories are transferred to her daughter and she becomes the new Black Canary (and this was all just to explain why Dinah hadn't aged since her creation!)

9. In 1986 the previous back story was shelved and a new one was introduced. This time Dinah Laurel Lance simply inherits the Black Canary mantel from her mother Dinah Drake Lance.

10. In this version Dinah Drake becomes Black Canary after being trained to fight by her police detective father. She plans to follow him into the police force but gets turned down. Her father dies shortly after and she honours his memory by fighting crime as a vigilante.

11. She marries private eye Larry Lance and they have a daughter Dinah Laurel Lance. She is born with her own canary cry that she can control.

12. Dinah dreams of being a costumed hero like her parents and their JSA friends. With the help of certain JSA members she trains and builds her skills. Later she takes on the Black Canary name and joins the Justice League.

13. This is where she meets Oliver a.k.a Green Arrow. They begin a romantic relationship and eventually get married. Once her mother dies they leave the JLA and move to Seattle where they open a flower shop called Sherwood Florist (what a glorious pun!)

14. In the 1990s former Batgirl Barbara Gordon (now known as Oracle, see my guide to Batgirl!) decides to set up a covert mission team. Her first choice is Black Canary who she invites to be a part of the Birds of Prey.

15. Black Canary reinvents herself, dying her hair bleach blonde (it was a wig before ok!) and after a rocky start becomes close friends with Barbara. 

16. The Birds of Prey become a popular long running series making up sixteen books (TPB's) prior to the new 52 relaunch, and Canary fights alongside many members, but the core team usually consist of Oracle, Huntress and Black Canary. 

17. In 2007 Black Canary is given her own mini series in which her and Green Arrow join the Justice League and are tested by one of the founding members Batman.

18.  Later that year there are a number of tie ins leading to Dinah and Oliver's wedding, Including the Black Canary Wedding Planner, and Justice League Wedding Special. Bad luck for them the Injustice League plan to attack the wedding.

19. After the wedding a lot of shit goes down between Dinah and Ollie that includes Dina resigning as chairman of the JSA, Ollie dies and gets resurrected by villain Nekron, he regains control of his body but discoveres he has committed murder and goes on the run. Eventually he surrenders and goes to prison, where Dinah visits him. She realises he wants to be left alone, and leaves with her wedding ring abandoned. 

20. Dinah returns to Gotham and rejoins the Birds of Prey. She meets and eventually defeats her nemesis White Canary, a villainess who reveals Dinah's secret identity.

21. In 2011 DC comics reboot the DC universe with the New 52. In the new timeline Dinah Lance is the founding member of the Birds of Prey. In this timeline she was never married to Oliver, and she is a reserve member of the JLA.

22. During this reboot Dinah is also given a new origin story. She is the daughter of a teenage single mother, and gets put into foster care at four. She is a street smart trouble maker and gets moved from different foster homes until at ten she runs away. 

23. Ex special forces agent Desmond Lamar takes her in. He runs a dojo as a martial arts sensei and gives her a job. Dinah asks him to train her, which he does. When he dies he leaves her the dojo, which gets attacked by a gang of ninjas and burns down. Thanks to her martial arts skills during the attack she gets recruited to Team 7, in which she works as a covert ops agent specialising in infiltration.

24. During this time she marries long time partner Kurt Lance. After a mission Kurt is left presumed dead, and Team 7 folds. Dinah is left a fugitive on the run and an outlaw code named Black Canary. Kurt later resurfaces but his memory is damaged.

25. Dinah moves in with Barbara Gordon as her dojo is burnt down. She gets her own series which follows her as the lead singer in a rock band called Ashes on Sunday. The series follows her attempts at keeping her music career and secret life as a vigilante separate.

26. The series runs for twelve issues and follows Dinah as she joins cult punk band Black Canary, as the myterious singer known only as D.D. and alongside her all girl band members learns more about her past and where her canary cry came from. 

27. Black Canary is a badass leather jacket wearing hand to hand combat expert. She rides a motorcycle, and has a DGAF attitude. She is a great leader and always looks out for her friends- especially Barbara Gordon. 

This takes us right up to Rebirth, where she now features as part of Batgirl and the Birds of Prey. Here's some recommended reading...

1. Green Arrow Black Canary Wedding Album. (here) This features the stories surrounding Dinah and Ollies ill fated wedding.

2. Green Arrow Black Canary Family Business. (here) Dinah and Ollie work as a crime fighting married duo. 

3. Birds of Prey vol.1 (here) goes back to the very beginning of the Birds of Prey where Oracle recruits Dinah. There are loads of books to collect and it's well worth reading the Gail Simone ones especially.

4. Birds of Prey Vol.1 New 52 (here) Rebooted and collected across four volumes featuring tons of kick ass DC women! 

5. Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell. (here) A stand alone graphic novel about Canary getting caught up in some black magic and having to turn to her friend Zatanna for help.

6. Black Canary Vol.1 Kicking and Screaming (here) Canary's only stand alone series, this is collected over two volumes and sees Dinah join a band. Beautifully drawn by Annie Wu and written by Brendan Fletcher and Cameron Stewart (two thirds of the team behind Batgirl of Burnside and Motor Crush). Read this series!

7. Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Rebirth Vol.1 (here) The sisterly crime fighting trio of Batgirl, Black Canary and Huntress being badasses and having fun.

So that's my guide to Black Canary! Next time: Wonder Woman!

New books and stuff.

Some books and stuff I picked up in January...
 The above is a little charity shop haul. I love looking around the charity shops every so often- especially the book section. I managed to get an as new copy of Swing Time by Zadie Smith for 99p!

I also got a nice little haul from The Works. They were having a sale  and I got thriller Her Darkest Nightmare for £1. This has been on my wishlist for a while. I also got 3 books for £5, they had a load of new books added to this deal. Finally I got some stationery from Wilkinsons. I needed a folder for uni and couldn't resist the cactus notebook.

 I also got Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams for £2 on Amazon. This is a collection of short sci-fi stories- I'd picked up the Blade Runner book from The Works. It's one of my favourite films so I'm looking forward to reading the story it's based on. 

The Method is a dark thriller about a pregnant sixteen year old who gets kidnapped, but is very manipulative and turns the tables on her captor. Sweetfreak is a YA that I've heard a lot about on booktube, and is about an anonymous online account that starts making accusations about a girl who decides to investigate who is behind it. 

Lastly, I picked up the Little Book of Mindfulness in Tesco. I have a big interest in mindfulness, and as part of my therapy module at uni recently had to write a paper on it, and have become even more into it!

Book review: The Girl Before by JP Delaney

A psychological thriller that spins one woman’s seemingly good fortune, and another woman’s mysterious fate, through a kaleidoscope of duplicity, death, and deception—and the hottest title at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair.

A damaged young woman gets the unique opportunity to rent a one-of-a-kind house. When she falls in love with the sexy, enigmatic architect who designed it, she has no idea she is following in the footsteps of the girl who came before: the house’s former tenant.

The eerie parallels in the two girls’ lives lay bare an enthralling story…and make this novel the must-read thriller of the season.

My thoughts:

Have you ever wished someone would write a book that combined the controlling 'romance' of Fifty Shades of Grey with the domestic thriller style of The Girl on the Train? if so you will love The Girl Before!

I'll be honest, I didn't love this book. Although the fast pace kept me interested and the premise was intriguing there were quite a few issues that put me off. The first being that both women seemed interchangeable- which I get is kind of the point but it made it hard to differentiate between each of their voices- they both seemed to have quite different personalities but were never fully explored, and the writing felt very impersonal. A side niggle is that in the chapters focusing on Emma (the girl before) no speech marks were used. I am guessing this was to help separate the two characters but surely there was a better way than forgoing punctuation...

Both women and in fact pretty much all the characters were unlikable. Usually that isn't an issue for me as some of my favourite books feature an unlikable protagonist but I felt like the actions of the two women were unrealistic. Jane was described as a smart woman and yet none of her decisions made sense and seemed stupid. Edward was made out to be a desirable character when I just felt like he was a controlling creep and the fact these woman wanted anything to do with him was beyond me! 

I was also quite uncomfortable with the subject of rape being used as a plot device in the story, and felt it was handled quite badly, as well as a hint of racism.

Overall I gave this 2 stars on Goodreads. I don't want to make this review totally negative- the pacing and story did keep me interested enough to keep reading, but ultimately this was just not the book for me.

If you liked The Girl on the Train then I have a strong feeling you will probably enjoy The Girl Before.

The Girl Before is out now in paperback

[Thanks to Quercus for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review]

Small pleasures.

Sometimes it's good to celebrate the little things, so here are some of my small pleasures over the last week or so...

1. Having six days off from work
2. Chocolate chip muffins
3. New comics
4. Planning uni work in my new diary
5. New Brooklyn 99 episodes going on Netflix
6. Finding some great mental health magazines in Tesco
7. A warm bath on a cold night
8. Cuddles with my cat pal Mr. Lola
9. Getting some nice bargains in the Simply Be sale
10. A cute thank you note from my Nan for her Birthday presents
11. Having a film & curry night with my Dad
12. Cherry and strawberry smoothies

 One of my Simply Be bargains
Mental health magazines in Tesco, and Mr. Lola getting a head rub!

My first selfie of 2018, and I desperately need a haircut!