Irmina – Barbara Yelin

In the mid-1930s, Irmina, an ambitious young German, moves to London. At a cocktail party, she meets Howard Green, one of the first black students at Oxford, who, like Irmina, is working towards an independent existence. However, their relationship comes to an abrupt end when Irmina, constrained by the political situation in Hitler’s Germany, is forced to return home. As war approaches and her contact with Howard is broken, it becomes clear to Irmina that prosperity will only be possible through the betrayal of her ideals.

When it comes to World War II and graphic novels, the book that seems to be most referenced is Maus, which is a good read although is not without its flaws.  Irmina on the other hand is much more mature and rewarding, it should be a required read for everybody.

Based around the diaries and letters of Barbara Yelin’s grandmother, this story is a well-researched and deeply layered examination of ordinary lives torn apart by the war.  |it’s a worth inquest and goes much further than most books do in getting to the route of the psychological impacts of the Nazi regime.

Irmina and Howard are both looked down on socially and distained, the outcasts shared loneliness becomes a strong bond, the tenuousness of which is soon shown as the war approaches.  As the book shifts towards life in Germany for Irmina, the reader witnesses her slow change through adversity – and choice – in her decisions and attitude towards all that she stands for holds dear.

Our protagonist is written in a believable and balanced way, she makes mistakes and the changes in her are gradual sometimes imperceptible, allowing the reader is left to decide whether Irmina is aware of all of her choices or not. Continue reading “Irmina – Barbara Yelin”



There seems to be an element of timing that fails me but then balances out through the kindness of other people for which I am very grateful.  Being taken up with getting into the nitty-gritty of The Wire, I missed the opportunity to do the Big Thing I had always planned for post 500, which is disappointing as I failed to really achieve anything from the 400th post.


It crept up quickly – as these things do –  this time and I will be making sure I book a bit of time off work in the near future to enact my plans which will be something different from my norm but that is all you are getting out of me for the moment…

Today’s post instead of being a celebration of a milestone will be, firstly a big thank you to Jess Harpley for sending me a mass of books and merchandise as well as unknowingly managing the timing for this, my 501st post.  Secondly I extend my appreciation to all of you, be you authors gifting me your hard work or a regular reader, that’s what the blog is all about and yes I am aware of how quiet I have been of late.  It could be blog related and will be if I can find an angle to make me feel less guilty about disappearing so completely. Continue reading “501”

Boston Books Too

It feels good to round-up yet another book haul, two of which I have already read due to my recharged batteries and also because I find it hard to sleep before 2am, when I can sleep at night that is.


The Ghosts We Know is a graphic novel which I found really interesting but you’ll have to wait for a review to find out why, it will be added to some reading lists though hopefully.  Why I Read and A Magnificent Farce are two books that come from my favourite shelves in any bookshop, the books about books section., nothing is going to get the readers back in like a book reiterating why a person loves to read. Such bliss will be saved for a rain day…if I can avoid temptation.

Hellenica is a collection of essays on Greek poetry, philosophy, history and religion and has a fantastically almost brand new feel to it and bringing up the rear in this photos pleasures was a book that will force me to read another book beforehand.  The Tangled Chain is a study on the structures and anomalies of the medical/scientific/philosophy work The Anatomy of melancholy.  Sometimes I need a push myself to the more challenging works and if buying another book helps it’s a bonus. Continue reading “Boston Books Too”

Boston Books

As has been hinted at elsewhere on this blog, I have a bit of a liking for books but and wishing to spread out further from the usual Barnes & Noble stores, i had to delve into this cities more eclectic book dominions. You may notice a distinct lack of photos, this was down to the serious business of distraction and buying but I am sure the interiors are a click away on your favourite search engine, should you be so inclined to virtually meander around.

I made sure I scoured the streets for some suitably interesting bastions of literature and first up was Brattle Bookshop, the one that everybody told to seek out.  I wasn’t disappointed, with a top floor full of rare books that occupied me for around four hours over various days – it felt good to just be holding a bit of history – and that’s not forgetting the other two floors and outside browsing area which made everything that bit more blissful.

SAM_2733The fun didn’t stop there though, Commonwealth Books which we stumbled upon whilst nosing down an alley has plenty of old books and feels a little more academic in nature which suited me just fine.  As well as rare books, there was a nod to local authors and a massive ginger cat who at first glance looked stuffed but was really just lazy.

The treat of book shops is how they affected me emotionally, that intense shiver of anticipation, the question of where to start first and then the reckless abandon with which one shows little disregard for time or company, owing to the importance of scouring each title.  Commonwealth in particular has me salivating over so many obscure title.   .t felt a lot more comfortable than the more clinical Brattle did and being tucked away made it feel more like a secret, overall a great atmosphere unless allergic to cats…or gingers.  Often did I curse the weight regulations of the airlines which is now just tradition quickly followed by reluctant acceptance.
Continue reading “Boston Books”

Leaf – Daishu Ma

LeafHow much power does a single man, let alone a single leaf, have in the industrial world? In this wordless, all-ages graphic novel, our protagonist discovers a leaf that radiates a vibrant light. He returns to a detailed metropolis – depicted in somber grays and blues – and searches for answers. During his quest, he stumbles upon a man who knows what’s really happening in the city’s labyrinthine ducts; a woman who spends her life studying and classifying obsolete flora; and the truth about the ever-dwindling environment. Leaf is a graphically stunning story that unfolds with a dream-like pace.  Shaded in pencil and punctuated by spot colors, drawn in a delicate but concretely realized tonal approach reminiscent of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji, Chinese cartoonist Daishu Ma’s first foray onto American shelves is ultimately a hopeful vision of the coexistence of the urban and natural worlds. Full-color illustrations throughout.

Wandering around Page 45 – Nottingham’s best comic book shop – I came across this intriguing effort and typically curiosity got the better of me and my wallet.  The best bit about this cover (unless you have a foliage fetish) is that there is a leaf-shaped hole allowing us to see the title on the page behind.  I mention this because it made me feel like a kid again being fascinated by a hole in the cover and on the strength of that and my natural curiosity like the man in the book, the sale was already a done deal.

Stories with no words are always thought-provoking beasts, body and facial expressions become more of an art than just an accompanying depiction to underline words.  Whether subtle or blatant each person will, according to their own experiences and thoughts open the story up to unique interpretations of the nuances within the main framework of the tale.

The pencil drawings are wonderfully realised, mixing different sizes and detailing throughout its pages.  The limited use of colour really brings out the features in each illustration and creates a vivid feel of something magical that is taken for granted in real life.  The imagined world is both grounded in reality but also has a distinct fantastical influence so the reader is both familiar but also intrigued by the setting. Continue reading “Leaf – Daishu Ma”

The Complete Maus – Art Spiegelman

MauzCombined for the first time here are Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale and Maus II – the complete story of Vladek Spiegelman and his wife, living and surviving in Hitler’s Europe. By addressing the horror of the Holocaust through cartoons, the author captures the everyday reality of fear and is able to explore the guilt, relief and extraordinary sensation of survival – and how the children of survivors are in their own way affected by the trials of their parents. A contemporary classic of immeasurable significance.

it’s easy to get lost in the horrifying statistics of the Holocaust but this personal account makes for a powerful and poignant view on one of histories most tragic events. Hindsight of the inevitable makes this book doubly sad, reading of those incomprehensible actions of past that can only be relived with a sense of helplessness and inevitability.

Presented in black and white, the art fits in with the footage and photos from that time, an almost unreal, colourless world which makes it easier to digest than most literature concerning the Holocaust. Characters are represented as animals and the inevitable questions are raised over what exactly these animals say about each race, naturally simplistic generalisations are easy to fall into but there is surprising depth to be pondered upon.

Spiegelman opts to introduce us to the events through the tried and tested story within a story approach, which works well up to a point, its strength lies in allowing the reader to form an understanding of how events in World war II have affected and irrevocably changed Vladek Speigelman.  Viewing his idiosyncracies with this hindsight makes for more depth of character which is a welcome aside from the obvious barbarism.

The family dynamic is fascinating, with hardship running through the past and guilt issues in the present, it is understandable how the family is like they are.  I didn’t expect to find them irritating but the foibles are repetitive and not in the least endearing, there is even a mention of racism which is interesting after the experiences of war.  Perhaps the author being of a younger generation struggles to understand the atrocities and concepts in the US now at (relative) peace. Continue reading “The Complete Maus – Art Spiegelman”

The Red Tree – Shaun Tan

redtreeSo the day began with nothing to look forward to.

Shaun Tan is a wonderfully evocative author and artist who never fails to make you feel with his books.  Here he captures the melancholy sensation that we all have from time to time, of confusion in our lives and the inevitability of less than good things happening.

Life is a bind and we all know it but this idea is vividly realised through the combination of words and art in this perfectly formed book.  its elegant look at an everyday life is something I found myself nodding along to throughout.

The story is of a girl in the thrall of these often inexplicably wistful emotions, the message is about not being alone in feeling this way, you are never alone in your isolation…how many of us go through the day like this, shut off in our own heads when to be human is to experience these things and as such perhaps it is best to embrace the feelings and turn it into something wonderful like Tan has masterfully done.

The artwork makes the bizarre seem commonplace.  This imagined world is a strange, weird and scary place, a cold corner like our world, but one of wonder mirroring that which we don’t see for we are so wrapped up in our own worries.  It’s a clever idea, perhaps our viewpoints should always be to look at the beauty and the wonderful things – even the mundane is fantastic sometimes – and experience everything anew everyday and really believe life is bigger than we are. Continue reading “The Red Tree – Shaun Tan”

Charley’s War – Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun

CharleysWarOneLargeGraphic novels/comic books are an underrated medium but one stand out comic series has been re-released in the last few years makes everything all right with the world again. Bringing together as it does an important anti-war message as well as a compelling storyline.

War serials in comics – the British comics at least – have a rich history stories which usually featured one hero running through a hail of bullets whilst everyone was being cut down and saving the day.

Charley’s War though is refreshingly different, not only bringing the insanity and horrors of war to the fore but also framing a moving and action packed story in the world of static trench warfare.

Appearing in Battle Picture Weekly, the story follows Charley Bourne a 16 year old who lied to get into the army and subsequently arrives at the trenches not long before the Battle of the Somme is due to start, what follows is a powerfully poignant tale of growing up, of life, death, friendship, bitterness and questions of why?

Although the subject matter is no doubt grim, it is offset not only with the legendary camaraderie of the troops abut also with some clever and  wonderfully moving plot devices to stop you warying from the inhumanity of the conflict.  One of which are the letters exchanged between Charley and his family, which start out all care free like he is on an adventure and having fun. Later when the realities of war kick in and he changes and grows harder to the carnage around him, we see the frivolities of family life back home and how the letters from the front keep the upbeat tone as the world goes to hell around him, it’s an admirable and touching thing he does, adding a lot of depth to his character. Continue reading “Charley’s War – Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun”

The Arrival – Shaun Tan

Christmas is indeed a time of year and it has nothing to do with this book whatsoever, except for being a really good present for everyone, even non readers, due to the universally accessible nature of there being no words at all.

What drives so many of us to leave everything behind and journey alone to a mysterious country, a place without family or friends, where everything is nameless and the future is unknown.  

This then is a story, told from the point of view of a man leaving his family, to find and start a better life for them in foreign parts. Here we follow the struggles and confusions, worries and hopes of refugees and immigrants in their plight.

Being presented in the style of a sepia tinted silent film, gives the book a very displaced sense of time which coupled with the sense of location disorientation fits in neatly with the perplexed feelings of the character and immediately opens you up to the fantastical sights that frequently pop up.

Each panel has something to say, from the small and intimate to the drawings that have an epic feel. The lack of any accompanying text really allows your mind to delve into this world and experience all the emotions that these characters feel and convey many other ideas and stories that have nothing to do with the plot but help you flesh out these people in your own mind. A lot of thought gone into crafting each image and I suspect each person will take some new thoughts, ideas or perspectives away each time they come back to this. Continue reading “The Arrival – Shaun Tan”

Gentleman Jim – Raymond Briggs

Raymond Briggs, the author of the perennial christmas tradition that is The Snowman which has become an intrinsic part of Christmas for young people for generations, as traditional as the turkey and the nativity is criminally less known for his other works, one being Gentleman Jim.

There’s not much opportunity for self-advancement in toilets

Jim is a toilet cleaner who understandably is looking for something more in life, happily Jim has an imagination, a love of TV and books and a wife who is willing to indulge his life fantasies for him but also to make her life more interesting too.

Both characters are really affable, it is difficult not to be drawn into their comfortable world with their set ways and the endearing way in which they attempt to make sense of a  bewildering and fast paced modern world.

This is a story of an unlikely hero Jim, who gets into scrapes with a faceless world, all for his well meaning if unconventional attempts to make life a little better for himself and others only to discover that it’s a lot more complicated than he imagined.

His love of various mediums of entertainment and his willingness to lose himself in the excitement is coupled with his inability to translate his ideas into the real world, which sounds like a criticism now that I write it but it really makes Jim guy to root for.  It’s the Jim’s of this world that are the heroes we should sympathise with, with their shambling, innocent or perhaps just a little naive ways.   Continue reading “Gentleman Jim – Raymond Briggs”

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