book reviews, Graphic Novels

Finding Home Vol. Two by Hari Conner

Book Review

45876539._SY475_Finding Home Vol. Two By Hari Conner

Rating: XXXXX

Published September 1st 2019 by Hari Draws Books.

“You always say ‘I’m fine’ when you look like you’re falling apart.”

Torn between the fae and human worlds, Chepi got used to being alone – that is, until he met Janek. Janek is unguarded, straightforward, and longs to return home to his friends and family – but there may not be a place for Chepi in Janek’s old life.
As they grow closer on their long journey together, Chepi struggles with anxiety, past trauma, and now his complicated new feelings for Janek. Janek doesn’t understand his new friend’s hesitance and is unsure if the spark he feels between them is even real. With time running out before their journey ends and dangers lurking on the path before them, can they make it home at all?

You may have seen that I reviewed Volume One: The Traveller of the Graphic Novel “Finding Home” last week (spoiler-free review here) and at the weekend I finally got time to sit down and read Volume Two: The Healer in two sittings and oh my. I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer because although I did very much enjoy the first book, its sequel absolutely blew it out of the water.

Like Volume One, The Healer is almost purely character-driven. As Janek and Chepi continue their long journey together we begin to learn more about each of them and we see their relationship grow as they become more comfortable with each other and begin to open up about their pasts. There is a little story to it in places, much like The Traveller but it is very much not the main focus and it does a fantastic job of moving the plot along when it needs to without feeling convenient

Everything feels totally stepped up in this volume including the number of pages, it’s larger at 196 pages to volume ones 149. The Traveller had some funny moments but there were just so many moments where I honestly laughed out loud in this book. One particular moment when Janek is pretty exasperated (see below) had me in fits and I actually had to put the book down for a few moments to compose myself. The facial expression and mannerisms were just spot on. As our pair of protagonists have become more at ease around each other they have also begun to tease each other a lot more, there are in-jokes and the snark is honestly priceless.

There are some beautiful, sweet and close moments with others being so thick with tension you could cut it with a knife. There’s some serious longing going on in Volume Two and I’m very much here for it. Speaking of which, as before each chapter preface showcases a type of fauna that sprouts from Chepi throughout the course of the story and I’m glad we finally see what the little yellow primroses are (scroll past next picture if you don’t want to know yet!).

Alongside all the wholesome good feelings we delve further into Chepi’s bad memories and emotionally abusive past relationship. These are some hard moments for those who have experienced anything similar but I feel that Hari has really done these parts and Chepi’s panic attacks justice in the way they are portrayed.

This was a fun, gorgeous, sweet and deeply emotional book. I think while reading this may have been the first time I’ve ever cried at a graphic novel. I’m desperate for the third and final volume in the series but also apprehensive because I don’t want it to end!

If you like the sound of Finding Home you can purchase Volume One and Volume Two at Hari’s Etsy store. They also have a Patreon here where you can receive sketchbook updates, AU comics, sneak peeks and can read NEW pages and chapters up to 100 pages in advance. I’ve just signed up and there is SO much great content.

 

 

book reviews, Graphic Novels, spoiler free

Finding Home Vol. 1: The Traveller by Hari Conner

Book Review

40922848._SY475_Finding Home Vol. 1: The Traveller by Hari Conner

Rating: XXXXX

Published June 2018 by Hari Draws Books

“It’s like there’s things that haunt you. Ghosts of feelings that follow you around. Echos of memories you can’t get rid of. A wall between you and the world.”

Finding Home is a slow-burn romance/drama comic set in a fantasy world, with a focus on nature, emotion and the small moments that change how you feel about someone.

Having abandoned his wood nymph family and spent a disastrous few years failing to fit in among humans, Chepi now travels alone, avoiding making friends or staying anywhere too long. That is, until he ends up on the road with someone he can’t seem to keep his distance from – Janek.

As the story begins, Janek just wants to get home and is happy to have a travelling companion on the way. But the closer they become, the more he’s drawn to Chepi, and the more he finds out about his nightmares, magic and troubling past…

I’ve been captivated by Hari’s art whenever I’ve come across them at MCM London and I kept seeing mentions of their graphic novel “Finding Home” and although it was on my list of things to get I often found that it had been so popular over the convention weekend that it was sold out when I went to get a copy on my breaks etc. When the Kickstarter for Vol.2 went live I backed it immediately and ordered myself a copy of Vol. 1 as well at last! I’ve been rammed with book reviews and other things the past few months since I received them but I finally made room for them a few weeks ago and took to spending a little time each night reading Vol. 1 and speedily falling in love with Janek and Chepi.

The artwork throughout is incredible, the landscapes and forests especially are my favourites, they honestly feel magical. The colours used throughout, those used to illustrate past memories, in particular, were done exceedingly well and added such an extra layer and feel to them. The only artwork issue I had at all was that I’m not great at reading some forms of cursive and had to spend a good amount of time trying to decipher a couple of parts that were written in letter form as although the handwriting looks beautiful it did take a few goes to get any good at reading it.

The story is a slow one and it could be said not a great deal happens but this isn’t an action-filled book. This is a soft narrative, slow burn of a tale and the pace itself just feels like it flows so naturally along with Chepi and Janek’s personalities. Time is taken to lay seeds, to ask questions, to hint at things and elaborate little by little as the characters get to know each other. One particular detail I absolutely adored was the fact that when Chepi feels different emotions strongly it seems to manifest in the form of different blooms throughout his hair, it’s just such a perfect little touch.  Although in a magical land, Chepi’s emotions feel so real and raw I was utterly transfixed, not to mention Janek’s caring, calm nature. Even when he’s a little flustered, nervous or worried Janek honestly feels like such a soothing presence and without giving too much away, his actions later in the book made me want to weep with joy because he’s honestly the sweetest soul I’ve ever encountered in fiction and I adore him with my whole heart.

The first and second volumes of Finding Home are available via Hari’s Etsy which you can find right here. Don’t forget to check out their other books and items too!

There have been hints of something brewing in the narrative past the characters and I feel like we might get some answers in the second book as well as hopefully Janek and Chepi opening up to each other a bit more, I’ll report back next week with my review for volume two!

 

 

 

book reviews, Graphic Novels, spoiler free

The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill

42369064.jpgThe Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill

Rating: XXXXX

Published September 17th 2019 by Oni Press

“Just because something comes easily to you, does not mean it has no value. You find it effortless because you love it, and that is why it is your gift.”

Rinn has grown up with the Tea Dragons that inhabit their village, but stumbling across a real dragon turns out to be a different matter entirely! Aedhan is a young dragon who was appointed to protect the village but fell asleep in the forest eighty years ago. With the aid of Rinn’s adventuring uncle Erik and his partner Hesekiel, they investigate the mystery of his enchanted sleep, but Rinn’s real challenge is to help Aedhan come to terms with feeling that he cannot get back the time he has lost.

I read The Tea Dragon Society earlier this year (review here) and absolutely fell in love with the wold Katie had created and was ecstatic to find a new book set in the world of the tea dragons, The Tea Dragon Festival, up on NetGalley! I was so happy when I was approved and dug in almost immediately.

If you’ve read and enjoyed the first book then you’ll be pleased to know that you can look forward to more of the same breath takin artwork and wholesome story. Equally, if this is your first foray into the world of Tea Dragons then never fear because this can absolutely be read alone no problem and is actually a prequel of sorts in that it’s set before the events of the first book and includes two characters we see in the second book, but they can easily be read in any order and still compliment each other.

The Tea Dragon Festival is filled with a brilliant cast of colourful and diverse characters, each more charming than the last, I particularly loved Aedhan and main character of sorts, Rinn, an aspiring cook who loves to gather fresh ingredients and help the people of her town. A new inclusion in this instalment which I really loved was the use of sign language which Katie has brought onto the page fantastically with the simple use of different coloured blocks of text to indicate if someone is communicating through sign and if they are signing and speaking out loud.

The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill is out today and I highly recommend this beautiful tale. You can find it in the large hardback version, akin to the first book as well as digitally through both kindle and ComiXology (release for digital is dated as September 18th, tomorrow according to Amazon).

 

book reviews, spoiler free

The Tea Dragon Society

Book Review

34895950._SX318_

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

Rating: XXXXX

Published October 18th 2017 by Oni Press

“Memories don’t just live inside you, Minette. They live in all the people and objects you share your life with.” 

After discovering a lost tea dragon in the marketplace, Greta learns about the dying art form of tea dragon care-taking from the kind tea shop owners, Hesekiel and Erik. As she befriends them and their shy ward, Minette, Greta sees how the craft enriches their lives—and eventually her own.

This book has been catching my eye on the shelf in varying shops for YEARS and when I was approved to review the sequel (review coming soon) I knew it was finally time to throw myself headfirst into the world of Tea Dragons. The Tea Dragon Society began life as a webcomic that upon completion was compiled into its own stunning graphic novel by Oni Press and as well as featuring the first complete story it also features an illustrated, well detailed, almanack full of information about Tea Dragons and the different kinds which I enjoyed almost as much as the initial story itself.

The story is broken down into five parts with a part for each season, beginning with Spring and an epilogue both broke it up into chunks nicely and really helped to show the passing of time in an easy and natural way. This is a story about friendship, following your dreams and cherishing those of others, respecting peoples traditions and cultures and supporting those around you. It’s sweet and beautiful with each page being a gorgeous work of art on its own.

There are a cast of beautifully varied characters, in personality and appearance which is refreshing, I loved that each character had their own feel and quirks with no one character being absolutely ‘perfect’ each had realistic flaws and brought different things to the story. I especially liked that we got to see into each characters backgrounds in unique ways and got to know them better as well.

Although you can read the story in individual parts via her it’s own gorgeous website here, I can’t recommend the hard copy enough, not only does it actively support Katie’s work but it’s a beautiful book to have around, it’s an A4 hardback book with high-quality paper pages, the lack of a glossy finish that a lot of graphic novels have really helps add to the natural feel too and just gives it a whole other layer, honestly it’s beautiful. The Tea Dragon Society is out now and it’s sequel, The Tea Dragon Festival is out this September so this is the perfect time to start reading!

 

book reviews, Graphic Novels

Heartstopper Volume 2

Book Review

43307358._SY475_


Heartstopper Volume 2
 by Alice Oseman

Rating: XXXXX

Published July 11th by Hodder Children’s Books

“You like me?”
“Was that not obvious?”

“I’m an idiot”

Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love. An LGBTQ+ graphic novel about life, love, and everything that happens in between: this is the second volume of HEARTSTOPPER, for fans of The Art of Being Normal, Holly Bourne and Love, Simon. 

Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie’s gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn’t. But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family … and himself. 

Heartstopper is about friendship, loyalty and mental illness. It encompasses all the small stories of Nick and Charlie’s lives that together make up something larger, which speaks to all of us. 

This review is for volume two of Heartstopper. If you’re looking for Volume One you can check out my spoiler-free review for it right here if you would prefer.

I have been so SO excited to read volume two of Heartstopper and I was gutted that i had to wait an extra week and a half until after release to read it. I’ve tried to restrain myself from reading too far ahead on Tapas which is updated every week and is further ahead than the printed volumes, thankfully I managed fairly well just rereading the first one and other than the first few pages everything was fresh to me. The day it arrived I sat and read the whole beautiful thing in one sitting. If I hadn’t had my son to look after (and you know, parent) I would have probably sat on the floor in my kitchen where I’d opened it and read it there and then.

In volume two, Nick has some big issues to think about and although there are some heartbreaking little moments even the more conflict heavy parts still feel like soul food, the way Charlie and Nick interact is beautiful. There defintley feels more at stake here almost and although things obviously do happen (and in a way that feels quite close to home – some bullying trigger warning here) it never feels hopeless, Heartstopper, to me, always feels so gentle and full of hope.

The art continues to be simple yet emotive and I love the way the dialogue just flows so well and feels totally natural, we get more Nelly, some secret handholding scene that brought me to (happy) tears. If you enjoyed Heartstopper volume one then Volume two is a must and then we can desperately wait for volume three.

You can check out the webcomic here. Alice posts updates for free but I highly recommend supporting her via Patreon if able or Tapas if not, more information is available on her Tumblr page. Also, just a note that if you haven’t read Solitare there are no spoilers in Heartstopper for it so not to worry there.

 

book reviews, Graphic Novels, spoiler free

Stand in your Power

45718659._SX318_Stand in your Power by Rachel Smith

Rating XXXX

Published May 2019 by Rachel Smith

“I wanted to stay in that bed forever…I really don’t know how I’m going to get through today…let alone the rest of my life.”

Stand in Your Power is a collection of autobio comic strips that comic-creator extraordinaire Rachael Smith made after going through a breakup and attempting to get on with her new, single life. The comics deal with loneliness, figuring out who you are, moving on, dating, friendship, depression, love, and many other super-relatable things.

I first came across Rachael while wandering the isles of MCM Comic Con a few years back now I think and I was having trouble dealing with a lot of the crowds so I made my way over to the comic village (which has since become my absolute favourite part of London MCM) where it was a little quieter and I remember seeing a stall that had comics and the main thing that drew my eye, pin badges with a cute grey kitty that said “you got this” and I went to take a closer look and picked up a copy of “Flimsy’s Guide to Modern Living” and it was about Flimsy the cat that I’d seen on the pin badge just trying to get through life even when things didn’t feel great, it was full of cute and really great affirmations for things like, “Decide every morning that you are in a good mood” and my personal favourite, “Feeling sad? OMG eat cheesecake.” It was fun and silly and Rachael signed my book (because obviously, I brought it) and was lovely to chat too which helped me feel less enclosed by the crowds and really helped. I’m feeling so honoured to have received a copy of her newest book “Stand in your Power” to review! 078The first thing that always stands out to me with all of Rachael’s work is her distinct, emotive art style and use of a big, bold yet warm colour palette, it’s utterly eye-grabbing and inviting and Stand in your Power is no exception. On the cover, I especially love the spotlight over Rachael and the two dark creatures that symbolise her depression etc surrounding her. This graphic novel is also in full colour and the colour really gives the artwork an extra zing, it’s an absolute treat for the eyes. I feel like the clean, almost simplistic style makes every scene feel comfortable and easy to read as well. This panel is one of my absolute favourites. 

111.jpgStand in your Power doesn’t follow what I would call a strict story, instead, it consists of different moments and realisations throughout the breakup and recovery with Rachael’s overarching narrative tying it all together so that it doesn’t feel like some comic strips just thrown together and it really works, it’s enjoyable and it feels like a journey you go on with Rachael.  The art and writing are very emotive and highly relatable whether you’ve been in a similar situation or not, there are experiences with mental health and depression, break ups, moving house, dating, friendships, finding yourself and honestly just being an adult which is much harder than the more adultier adults give us credit for. Trigger Warning for self-harm but Rachael has approached this brilliantly and not only given a warning but also colour coded the pages so it can easily be skipped over if needed. There are some really fantastic moments throughout Stand in your Power, and I nearly cried a few times at the kindness of Rachael’s supportive friends (Heather and the advent calendar especially!) I also found this trick remembering to take your meds stupidly helpul, this is actually something I’ve actually done since and let me tell you Jiji is not a forgetful cat.
121.jpgStand in your Power is available in softcover now and you can buy it at Rachael’s Etsy store here as well as her other books! Rachael Smith’s debut graphic novel House Party came out in 2014 with Great Beast Comics to critical acclaim. The Rabbit, released by Avery Hill Publishing in 2015, is her second graphic novel and was nominated for Best Book in the British Comic Awards 2014/15. Rachael is also the creator of Flimsy the Kitten and One Good Thing, Wired up Wrong, House Party and more including Stand in your Power. She is also currently running a funding campaign via Unbound.com for her next book Isabella and Blowden which you can check out here.

book reviews, spoiler free

Heartstopper Volume One

40495957Heartstopper by Alice Oseman

Rating: XXXXX

Published February 7th 2019 by Hodder Children’s Books

“I have a six-year-old brother. Mario Kart is my life. And you get to be good at real sports. I get to be good at fake ones.”

“You’re good at everything, you nerd!”

Charlie Spring is in Year 10 at Truham Grammar School for Boys. The past year hasn’t been too great, but at least he’s not being bullied anymore, and he’s sort of got a boyfriend, even if he’s kind of mean and only wants to meet up in secret.

Nick Nelson is in Year 11 and on the school rugby team. He’s heard a little about Charlie – the kid who was outed last year and bullied for a few months – but he’s never had the opportunity to talk to him. That is, until the start of January, in which Nick and Charlie are placed in the same form group and made to sit together.

They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance. But love works in surprising ways, and sometimes good things are waiting just around the corner…

I’ve been reading books for new releases and blog tours etc pretty solidly for the past two months and today I decided to finally take a day off and try out one of the books that have been patiently waiting for me that aren’t bound by release deadlines etc and today felt like a day that definitely needed a splash of Heartstopper, just looking at this book makes me happy. It’s pink spine, the bright but not painful colours of the cover and Alice’s distinctive simple yet powerful style of art brightened my day before I even read the first page. I met Alice at the Quiet at the End of the World launch event last month and having not read any of her books before I decided Heartstopper would be a good one to start with as it had already caught my attention on Twitter plenty of times, turns out I think this book may be considered a gateway drug to more Oseman.

in 2014 Alice Oseman released her first novel, Solitare which featured a sixteen-year-old girl called Tori who had a brother called Charlie who had a loving, committed boyfriend called Nick. In 2015, she released an ebook called Nick and Charlie which looked at their relationship a year on from the events of Solitare and found herself thinking about the backstory behind their relationship prior to Solitare and although she tried many times to write it as a novel she found it never really quite worked until it occurred to her that was because Nick and Charlie’s relationship didn’t fit a novel and instead on September 1st 2016, created the Heartstopper comic Tumblr page and uploaded the first eleven pages of Nick and Charlies story.

“There’s no gradual rise and fall. Nick and Charlie’s story isn’t like that. Nick and Charlie’s story is made up of fragments. Episodes. There are episodes of their lives; small stories that makeup something larger. The story of them meeting. The story of them becoming friends. The story of them falling in love, becoming boyfriends, finding their way through a new relationship, fighting back against mental illness. It doesn’t work as a novel because there’s no overarching drama – because it’s just real life. Just one normal, loving relationship between two people. And so what I realised was that the best way to tell this story would be through a webcomic.”

Then in 2018, Alice ran a Kickstarter to collect the first two chapters in a physical edition which was also later picked up and published through Hodder Children’s books with a volume two due to release in July this year! Alice also updates the webcomic online, three times a week and honestly dear reader you should be honoured that I’m even sitting at my desk writing this review because I desperately just want to devour every single chapter of this story right now but this book was so brilliant I need to tell everyone. So if you somehow haven’t heard of Heartstopper before now, consider yourself informed and get on it because it is an absolute gift.

Just thinking about this book makes me want to cry. It’s beautiful, it’s funny and it’s heartwarming and so just SO DAMN WHOLESOME I want to turn it into a blanket and wrap myself in it forever. Honestly, it’s just so hard to describe the warm feeling in my chest that reading this book gave me. I loved the familiar Brittish setting and phrases etc, even down to their school uniform which was pretty similar to the one I wore (gulp) so many years ago which gave it a nice extra level of relatability for me. Watching Nick and Charlie grow as friends and the interactions they have were some of my favourite parts of Volume one and I couldn’t honestly just reading about them hanging out all day. I could go on and on about Nick and Charlie but I want to make sure I mention that not only do I love the natural feeling evolution of their relationship I also love what they feel separate from each other as well, I came out / was outed at school and went through some confusing feelings at the time as well as going on to have crushes on “the straight one” as it were so this all feels startlingly real and it’s just handled so well and as Alice herself as stated, it’s just real life. Also there’s Nellie the doggo and she is the best thing that ever graced any page ever and I love her.

I’ve read a lot of manga, comics and other graphic novels in my time that I found the format enjoyable but terribly morish because it was such an easy afternoon read, I seriously considered reading the entire thing over again once I’d finished it the first time. Not only is Alice’s art style absolutely adorable and an absolute joy to look at it’s so evocative and she really knows how to use this format well, from simple panels or backgrounds used to portray emotions, certain angles and switches as well as the magic of the simple page turn she does a fantastic job of making these techniques as important and as part of the story as the art and words itself.

I figured I would wait until the next volume came out in July to carry on with Nick and Charlie’s story and although I will certainly be buying it when it does, I won’t like dear reader, I currently have the Tumblr page open and ready with chapter three to read once I’ve finished this review. You can check out the webcomic here. Alice posts updates for free but I highly recommend supporting her via Patreon if able or Tapas if not, more information is available on her Tumblr page. Also, just a note that if you haven’t read Solitare there are no spoilers in Heartstopper for it, as I mentioned it appears Heartstopper is a gateway drug and I’m about six words away from ordering it myself.