Tag Archives: literature

Review: Conversations With People Who Hate Me by Dylan Marron, By Sian Thomas

Four stars

I remember when this podcast went live, boosted somewhere into my online feed because I had been a fan of Welcome to Night Vale, even as I felt it slipping from my grasp of enjoyment (it’s back now).

“Conversations With People Who Hate Me” is a podcast initially beginning with Dylan Marron, the creator, reaching out to people who have left him mean comments on his online work. They discuss the comment, among other things, and while not strictly having to come to some ample, satisfactory conclusion, usually both parties leave the table feeling different to how they sat down at it. It would later evolve into Dylan moderating a conversation between two people – one whose work or art piece or the like received a mean comment, and the person who left it.

I thought this was an interesting idea when it first came out back in 2017, mostly because I’d seen nothing like it outside of thinking back to when you’d get taught as a kid to “be nice”, or “not get angry” that kind of thing, that parents kind of do: “Remember to share!” when they’re, I don’t know, in the kitchen, and not watching you not share. “Just talk!” felt like impractical advice, I wasn’t sure how it would help, if it even could. But I remember listening to a few episodes before I fell off of podcasts entirely, (not for any particular reason, I think it would mostly down to this itch in my brain that told me if I’m listening to people speak then I have to listen and I found myself unable to do anything else if I had a podcast on, and I must not have been getting enough A-Level revision done as a result) listening to the back and fore of a conversation that would definitely frustrate me, but I found Dylan was navigating well. It wasn’t something I could have done. I’m not certain it is now, five years on.

The book was quite a lot about how the podcast came to be, and what was learned during its creation process. Which is fine, truthfully, I wasn’t sure it would be about anything else since the book and the podcast shared the same name. There is a tale woven within it about what the internet is and what it could be – how it effects us and the kinds of things, good and bad, it can lead us to doing or feeling. I enjoyed seeing the depth of something I had liked and then lost hold of years ago, re-entering my vision in a way that contextualised and solved what probably caused me to drop it in the first place. I don’t think I was ready to have the kinds of conversations Dylan was having then, and while I’m not convinced I am now, either, one thing I found dazzlingly soothing was the understanding of the “Everything Storm”. The “Everything Storm” is kind of how it sounds: everything is happening all the time, all at once, and if you can’t keep up, someone on the internet definitely thinks you suck. I never realised this was what was causing my own version of an internet fatigue, but on reading Dylan’s detailing of his own (even as it was attributed to discussions he was having and manifesting as different emotions and actions for him), I was like, oh man, this is it. This is what pushed me to the private twitter with all of my ten highly vetted followers, what made me rest my phone face down. It was nice to put a name to that weird feeling of guilt when something happens and all I can think when I look at it was, “Oh no. Not now. Please.”

This was definitely a feature of the book I really enjoyed, the detailing of the arcs of a conversation, serving you pieces you can recognise and take away with you, the smallest of navigation tips to assure your nerves if you ever take on the kind of conversations Dylan does.

The book is delightfully written, reading like a winding story while instilling a genuine lesson. I don’t often read non-fiction, but when I do I find I prefer it to feel almost personal. I enjoyed this deep dive into the very back of Dylan Marron’s mind: what lead to the podcast and the further book, and all the nuances of creation that came both before, and during, this chapter of his life. I can see why it would have been difficult to write, after learning it was supposed to release in mid 2020, not the first half of 2022. The deliberation of what may come of these “pieces” – the consequences to all of Dylan’s actions, in a way -was purposeful and honest. Which is refreshing to see in world tearing itself apart wondering who the main character of the day is, and how exactly then can get got.

I think Dylan Marron is the kind of person you either quietly follow through the years, even if you’re not aware that you are (which is the category I fall into: I heard of him through his work on Welcome to Night Vale, and found myself coming back to his page every so often to see what, if anything, had changed), or, one day, you happen upon him by accident entirely. For a long time he was just “that voice on that show I used to listen to”, but I realise now Dylan is much more and has been doing much, much more than that. I get the feeling that this is something of a memoir rather than a self-help-essay-type of book like Good Vibes Good Life by Vex King, which I really, really like. It feels real and honest; genuine and undoubtfully true. It has a similar kind of vibe to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic – a snippet of a wide, three-dimensional life, and how it made an unfathomably large ripple across the rest of that person’s days.

It was a fantastic read. I don’t know that I would recommend it to everyone, but I think it’s one of those books where if you look into it yourself and think yeah, I can get behind this, then do.

Sian Thomas

Review: The Damning Stone by TJ Klune by Sian Thomas

Five stars

The most recent instalment of TJ Klune’s Tales From Verania series hit this week. I had it on pre-order once I’d realised how quickly this book had snuck up on me. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect; I knew there would be more on my reading of the last book in the series, Fairytales from Verania, and I knew that the point of view was set to shift from Sam (who the main series has as it’s point of view) to Prince Justin (a character greatly involved in the main story – in the main cast, but a side character of the main cast). This was something I initially felt a little unsure of – although this is something TJ Klune has done before in his Green Creek series, something about a series so firmly set in one characters eyes for four (and a bit) books, the jump felt a little out of left field, and I was left wondering if it would feel too different to cohesively flow. But, luckily, the writing is as seamless as ever; the dialogue continues to be a fun twist of modern and sharp, playfully funny, and honestly genuine.

The story itself is full of twists and turns; a seed of doubt blossoming and the aftermath of the “main” series concluding neatly, which I liked to see. I went into this book quite blind as, I’ve found, TJ Klune does an excellent job at saving the cliff-hanger for the next book to the very, very last moment, so I had nothing bracing me for the story of this book. Which made it great fun as it unfolded before my eyes. I read it in about two days, absolutely enamoured by the way the cast dynamics were shifting, and the story that was before me. I don’t want to write about any spoilers (especially since the book only came out this week, so that wouldn’t be fair, and I think it’s better to go in with the rest of the series strapped to your back, rather than jumping into this one and being blindsided entirely).

I feel as though once you start a TJ Klune series, there is a comfortable air of “sameness” that begins to gather around you. This cast of characters was familiar to me, to a point where I could start to guess their reactions to events in the story – I usually don’t enjoy this, but with a series of books I find it just different enough for me to forgive. I’ve spent countless hours reading these stories and getting familiar with the characters to the point where I am entrenched in the world, and I feel better every day for having decided to read this series. TJ Klune’s writing, while always excellent, is beginning to feel homely and safe, which I genuinely appreciate in a world of shock-death-endings or abrupt cancellations. So, when the tense “final battle” of this book began (and tense it was!) I found that I wasn’t nervous – I didn’t have a coil of disappointment ready to spring in my gut, because it simply wasn’t there. TJ’s storytelling is a great skill of his, but I find his openness with his audience something far more remarkable.

The Tales From Verania series is an excellent (albeit, not a child-friendly one) story of love and hardship, friendship and connection. This book pushes that even further, now with the invitation to further lands in the fictional world which will, I’m sure, draw more characters into the wide circle of the main cast. And I am excited to meet every single one that shows its face.

Sian Thomas

Review: De Cineribus From the Ashes by Thomas Vaccaro by Sian Thomas

Four stars

Thomas Vaccaro’s De Cineribus: From the Ashes was a book I honestly wasn’t sure I’d like. I like Thomas’s YouTube videos a lot (their channel name being Unicorn of War), as I am certainly a sucker for a good video essay to absorb over a plate of food (my favourites being their RWBY reviews and rewrites, and their Taylor Swift song discussions), but I’d realised with YouTuber books they were often – well, bad. Or at least, would quickly fade from the limelight or fall from grace in a record speed. I was worried, at first, that this book would be similar; a money grab, rather than a labour of love.

I was wrong, and pleasantly so.

One of Thomas Vaccaro’s strengths, I think, is their ability to think far ahead with their plots. Admittedly, I found their channel because I was actively looking for content about RWBY that would prove its awful writing, terrible production, and overall bad reception, and what I found was someone who was lovingly taken the broken, beaten show, and making it into something of their own. RWBY is its own show, yes, but I admired Thomas Vaccaro’s way of reshaping the information we (RWBY’s audience) have, and turning the plot into something both actually palatable and genuinely fun. This was a quality I was sure would shine through in their book, even while I still quietly worried about the production quality of it. Despite that, at the very least, I knew the story was in perfectly capable hands.

And it was.

De Cineribus mainly follows Felix, a young adult about to enter the college scene, heading off to a college for those with magic powers. He finds friends, enemies, suffers his wins and his definite losses. A few other perspectives are followed throughout the story but this, I realised, does not take from Felix’s perspective as sometimes multiple POV stories can do. Rather I found the jumps in perspective enlightening, and definitely enriching of the wider plot as new characters would pose new questions to me (what’s happening here? How does it relate back and affect Felix? How much do they know? Whose side are they on?).

As I said, I admire Vaccaro’s dedication to writing and storytelling. It’s most definitely a skill of theirs, and clearly shows through the books. First of all, the book is just over 500 pages long, so you can tell that’s dedication to a story for one! But mainly it comes in the depth and complexity of their characters (and there’s a good number of them!) but while the cast of characters is big, it is not overwhelming. There are not so many that I can’t keep track, or I can’t remember whose skill is what, or who matters to who. This is something I was incredibly relieved to find out as often college/magical fantasy stories often have casts as far as the eye can see. This is something RWBY is completely guilty of, and I found myself noticing Vaccaro’s particular points about RWBY being contested in their own work. Characters in De Cineribus are fleshed out, have their own skills and limits, motivations, and broad personalities. I liked being able to not expect what a character would be like based on their skills. Healers who aren’t friendly, teachers who are cranky, teachers who are jovial, etc. I liked, especially, that while Felix was for the most part sweet and caring and loyal, he also had a very clear dark underbelly to his character; one that was angry, determined to the point of obsessive, and sometimes a bit scary. It was nice to see a main character with real faults, and real regrets when those faults caught a hold of him too strongly.

The writing is strong and done with precision (although I’ll admit I found a few typos – but to err is human. And even so, I can’t even remember where they were or what they were!), Vaccaro’s skill and dedication really shine through the way the dialogue is youthful but not cringey, and the way their descriptions are alluring but not droning. The prose itself was enjoyable, turns of phrase appearing that I wouldn’t have expected, I think I was most fond of “bust a gut” to describe laughter, since this isn’t an image I usually come across, and it definitely elevated the youth of the characters and the depth of their emotions.

The book is, as I said, just over 500 pages – so, not a quick read, but a fun, entangling one.I trust Thomas to make a strong series based on their passion and unwavering dedication. Since this is called book one, and I’m excited to see where the rest of the story may go. Especially since the books ends in a very apt spot for a sequel to take over.I admire their dedication to their craft and in particular, to their audience.

I appreciate aspects I’ve otherwise never seen in literature such as their comprehensive list of trigger warnings at the beginning of the book, and good sized chapters – long enough to engage, short enough that I don’t get bored.

I was initially worried about boring fantasy tropes showing their head throughout this text, as most fantasy books fall victim to at least a few. And while I’m sure a few did seep in there, I was pleasantly surprised when things didn’t turn out that way and I actually couldn’t guess where the story would go as it progressed, which was definitely a breath of fresh air for me.

Overall, the book was a fun, immersive read. Especially for fans of things such as Harry Potter but have outgrown it or do not wish to support its author. It’s a fun, youthful take on the “wizard school” idea, one ripe for a new generation and a new presence in literature. 

Sian Thomas

Review: It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover by Sian Thomas

Four stars

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover is one of those books I heard about over and over and over again and kept skirting the edges of to get away from. With her skyrocket into popularity, I found myself jumping through hoops to avoid her work, for no other reason than: I had a weird feeling I’d like it, and because I know she has so many books published, I simply didn’t have the time or money to fall into her work and out the other side, changed.

Then I got paid.

It Ends With Us was the kind of book floating all over booktok, appearing and disappearing in book group posts I would skim read; it was popular, easy to read, and seemingly either incredibly well-liked, or vehemently hated. I wanted to know why. Even when I was actively avoiding it, I wanted to know what it was that was happening to people that their reviews were becoming so mixed.

I thought, when I was reading it, that it would be down to its “chicklit” factor. The book itself being pink, and Hoover being notably a romance writer, I thought people were detesting it because it was a gooey, lovey dovey easy read, and not an absolute draining challenge of some such classic literature you’d find on a university reading list that I’m sure I would hate after half of the first page. I found myself believing this at one point, questioning if something that had so clearly rocketed into pop culture, wouldn’t it be too easy for me?

And then I decided I didn’t care. I’d been paid. My New Year’s Resolution was to read twenty books this here and here was a book I was interested in; I had to take the opportunity before it skirted me, the same way I had been skirting It Ends With Us. I bought it one day after work, snatching it from the shelf before I had a chance to think about it too long, rushing myself through the till before I had the chance to turn around and put it back.

Besides, if I didn’t like it, there is a cute phone-box-library right by my house, and I’m sure someone, somewhere, would like it more than me.

I kept it. I’m keeping it forever, tucked nicely into the pink section of my bookshelf. Because I liked it. As I, ironically, knew that I would.

It Ends With Us is a fun book at first. A real page turner as one relationship blossoms right before the reader’s eyes and the other notable relationship come sneaking out of the shadows, piece by piece. I admit, I’m no high class literature snob (except for when I want to be), so when the blurb said something much more wordy than simply “Man A meets Man B and which one will it be at the end?” I had two main thoughts: I’m too good for this and this is going to be a great read for me. I got over myself quick when I found I was six chapters in the same day I’d started reading, and had the feeling that by that time tomorrow, the book would be finished.

I had heard a lot of different opinions on Colleen Hoover’s writing style, and I had initially been worried that I wouldn’t like it. But admittedly, the writing style is easy and quick. Not plain, exactly, but simple. Easy to follow and, as I found out, easy to get lost in. The book is fast paced with short to mid length chapters (which I certainly appreciate, I always felt like short chapters feel more like the book is moving, rather than longer ones), and with its page-turner ability, I found the book was over far sooner than I’d expected.

The story progresses as (no spoilers): Lily meets Ryle and they hit it off. It’s great, until. And also in the mix is an old friend of Lily’s she was once in love with.I know it sounds very chicklit-y. It is. But that’s honestly what made it fun for me. I’m excited for the sequel to be released and seeing what happened to the cast of characters next.

There are a few things I have noticed in my last few reads, and this one, that have pulled me from my escapism of reading and placed me squarely back in real life. I’m not sure if it’s a trope in and of itself, but I’ve noticed a prevalent “rich best friend” character appearing; funding or enabling the main characters lifestyle, existing for exuberant gifts, there for not much more of a purpose than “be rich” and “be convenient”, which is a shame. I get the feeling that it’s easy, that Rich Best Friend nullifies a lot of typical people-problems, but I find this also voids a certain aspect of relatability to the cast of characters. But honestly, that was the only flaw I saw in the book – everything else about it was compelling and emotional, intriguing and fun!

Sian Thomas

REVIEW: TJ KLUNE’S THE LIGHTNING-STRUCK HEART, BY SIAN THOMAS

5 Stars


I read this book in about, let’s say, ten hours total. Over two days, because I’m grown and have a job and go to bed at 10pm and stuff like that, but I thought about this book the entire time I wasn’t reading it. I thought about this book when I was clocking into work at 5:58am this morning, I thought about this book when I was making lunch and left it upturned in my armchair, I thought about this book when the delivery company told me “It’s on the way!” because my excitement was obliterating, and I just could not stop thinking about what a treat I was in for.

Because I was. In for a treat.


I was achingly awaiting the release of TJ Klune’s Under the Whispering Door and wanted something to scratch the itch sooner. I have the Green Creek Series on my shelf, and the House on the Cerulean Sea, too, but I was looking for something new to me to prep for the all-new new-to-everyone release of Under the Whispering Door. I was excited, since The Lightning-Struck Heart is the foundation of a wider series, and I was ready to commit to something fun, light-hearted, and absolutely intoxicating. Since, I reiterate, I read it in about ten hours. It was an excellent start to what I’m sure will be an incredible series, setting up a joyous protagonist with his mismatched, knit-together found family; a unicorn (Gary), half-giant (Tiggy), knight (Ryan), mentor (Morgan), parents, king, and later, dragon, and prince. And I love them. All of them. Just so much. TJ Klune has a fantastic way of crafting the nuanced relationships between his characters; they feel like genuine people, like real conversations are taking place and I can see where they can go before they do, and I adore that. I can see the bonds through their words and the love through the thoughts of the protagonist (Sam Haversford). This is something I have always admired from TJ Klune – I find it remarkable how well done it is every single time. In the Green Creek series, the pack bonds speak for themselves; they are visceral and enveloping. In the House in the Cerulean Sea, they are endearing and heartfelt. In this book, they are tantalizing, fun, witty, and downright hilarious. I think only a few choice authors have ever made me laugh out loud while staring down at the book in my hands in an otherwise silent room. So loud you’d think I’d have barked like a dog. This was one of those authors, making one of those special books that seem to fit in my hands just right. Isn’t that neat?

I loved it. Could you tell? Probably.

The plot is there, in between the bits and pieces of the romance story I was absolutely absorbed in. I find it a really good starting point for a wider series, it deals really nicely with the world itself and the character dynamics, and where/how they fit into their world of Verania, and it sets up really well where the rest of the wider story will go. I love the way the magical creatures were involved with every bit of their own flare, the individualism of TJ Klune’s work is astounding; unique and much needed in the fantasy sections of stores that are just far too filled with whatever new cover Harry Potter has now. I’m excited to see the way this wide world will expand and how the characters fit into it as they, and it (I’m sure), will change around them. And honestly, I’m looking forward to seeing what conflicts will arise between everyone and what exactly it might lead to. I’m doing my very best to not spoil everything about the first book, and I’m trying my best to enter the rest of the series as blindly as I can (I find that best with TJ Klune books – he assures his readers of happy endings, which I have seen time and time again and never once got tired of, but I love the rollercoaster feeling of his novels too much to ruin my fun before I’ve had it).

If anything is a take away here, I find TJ Klune books, this one in particular, about connection, at the heart of everything. Yes, magic is cool, and mystery is fun, but my favourite thing about any TJ Klune story is that it is simply not the same without the connections made along the way. I love seeing it, and I’d love to be able to explain it without screaming “READ THIS BOOK” or “OH MY GOD” or, I don’t know, squealing a little. But it is most definitely a skill I admire in a writer and would love to learn to do myself, one day. Sam Haversford has his best friends, and slowly collects more as the book goes on (which I love. It’s like there’s no bad guys. There’s just stubborn strangers who slowly becoming a part of the group), and his energy is contagious, his demeanour perfectly sunshine-y, his dynamic with his friends complementary and genuine.

To talk about something else, I really loved the humour of the book. It feels youthful and energetic, and it’s perfectly in my style. The thought-process of the main character, his quick wit, and the back-and-fore of him and the other characters is absolutely adoring. It’s fun, snappy, and all-around joyful; there were so many times where I had a huge grin on my face, watching jokes fly between characters for pages and pages, one thing snowballing into another before the plot reintroduced itself to me.

The book is fun. I really, really liked it. I can tell my reading slump has ended on account of, I then immediately bought the rest of the series, Under the Whispering Door, and another book on my way home from work. TJ Klune’s writing is real, and special, and means the absolute world to me. I am beyond excited to experience more of it.

Sian Thomas

Review: Heartsong by TJ Klune by Sian Thomas

Review will include spoilers.

An incredible continuation of a phenomenal series. I have to begin with applause – for one thing especially. The flow. I noticed as I began reading this book that something was different – not that it was a different character, place, situation – I expected all of that. I understand well enough the creative decision TJ Klune made to have the series circle multiple characters rather than just Ox and Joe, and I wholeheartedly respect it! But I definitely could tell the difference from the beginning of this book compared to the others. Once I realised what it was I was in awe; as Robbie’s memories became less hectic, and as he became more trusting and open of the Bennett pack, the story began to feel less choppy, and much more smooth. The transition into this was so effortlessly made that I hadn’t fully noticed it until I was about half way through the book. I don’t know if this was something that was done on purpose (if it was, that’s amazing and inspiring), but it truly was incredible; it felt like honest craftsmanship coming straight through the pages and falling into my lap. I love it, it makes TJ Klune feel like an author to really look up to.

I already loved this series, and have for a while now, so I knew I was in for a great story when it arrived. To speak from a place of real honesty, this is a series to experience rather than read about second hand. The way the emotions of the characters – of every character – come through the books so clearly, stark and vibrant, is fantastic. The book is full of feeling, there really is no shortage of it, and it’s refreshing to see, especially since a lot of the “main cast” is male. This is something I’ve always adored about the writing style, there is no fear in it. Characters are everything and anything, given real time to process things and react to them, and each of them is so individual and unique – there are traits in everyone that are recognisable and easy to relate to, and I love it.

Ox has my heart, as always, so he remains my favourite characters. It’s been such an experience to see how, through other’s character’s stories, his is still growing and moving forward behind the scenes – and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what it all is going to accumulate into. I love how he’s progressed through the series, the way he’s changed from shy and insecure to this Alpha character now is unparalleled. I feel proud of him and his growth, almost.

I don’t think anyone could even try and convince me not to give this book five stars, there was so much in it to enjoy: the making, breaking, and repairing of character’s relationships (most notably Kelly and Robbie’s relationship being strained and strengthened), watching a hero’s journey move forward, Carter being amazing (I’m very excited to see what happens with him, next), and even things like watching how the “bad guys” are moving on from fabled things of nightmares to real, honest figures of terror. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book, another hit – I’m sure – in this phenomenal series.

I know this review isn’t too plot-detail heavy (I don’t want to ruin things), but I stand by what I said: this book is to be read by you, not by me telling you what I read.

Sian Thomas

Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman by Sian Thomas

I feel as if I started reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman years ago, fell in an out with it as time went on, until I finally stumbled and stayed in its clutch.
    I remember hearing about it and thinking of it as interesting. Intriguing. I’m pretty sure it was described to me as light and easy, and I’m pretty sure the suggestion had come just after I finished A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Light as easy must have been what I needed, because at the very least, Neverwhere was something that stayed in the back of my mind as a quiet desire to get into – and that’s where it all starts, really.
    I’ve read Neil Gaiman before, both The Graveyard Book and Good Omens, and I can say with a complete certainty that the way fantasy is presented through his writing is done strongly, and in a way that’s wholly fascinating. The story I have different opinions on, but the way it was crafted and elegantly delivered to me I really enjoyed. Richard, the main character, was one I grew to be quite fond of. Especially considering that how he was written was the begrudging type in a fantasy novel – the one who is just trying their best to get home. I liked the way he was happy when his bank card worked again at the end of the novel – something so simple and joy-inducing considering everything else he’d seen throughout the novel.
The story itself was alright. Most of my reason for reading was that 1) I like the writing and, 2) I really liked the characters. It’s an easy story in a huge book – man dragged into a big fantastical fantasy-world journey of “London Below”, going on a mismatched-twisted-and-turned adventure until he can go home (and then immediately realising he didn’t really want to go home). Kind of predictable, but still enjoyable.
The main characters – Richard, Door, and the Marquis (later adding a woman named Hunter) – each had a specific feeling to them that – though recognisable in fantasy – still had their own little spins which was nice to see. They were all likeable in their owns ways – as were the villains, for people who tend to enjoy bad guys more. I do quite like Neil Gaiman’s characterisation – something about it is always very clear and well-liked. The characters had their traits, and their goals, and their rises and falls – and none of it was made too complicated for unnecessary reasons.
I really did like this book! I’m glad I read it.

Sian Thomas

Review: Ravensong by TJ Klune by Sian Thomas

I don’t know where to begin with this book. I didn’t know where to begin after I read the first in the series, Wolfsong, so here I am all over again, hoping that I’ll be able to think of something that works and say anything that shows a fraction of what I felt while I was reading Ravensong.
I was so excited for it. This was not a secret (I don’t think it could have been, really, even if I tried with all my might)

This book had a stark difference in the way it utilised its point of view. A different story needing a different outlook is much more than understandable, and though I was excited to see how the change would play out ultimately I would realise: I love Ox and I love Wolfsong and though it would be easy for me to pick a favourite, that would never mean that Ravensong was bad – because it wasn’t. I loved it anyway, and I loved it in a different way. The thing about reading Wolfsong was that I also came to realise that I adored all the characters that were there for me to enjoy – so the book being told by a new voice was welcome, and fun, at its core.

The writing style before I remember as crisp and sharp and full of emotion, and it still was, now. It had a way of making me reflect on my own writing style; how mine is elongated and often runs in triplets and have a very obvious tendency to be verbose. It was refreshing to relive, I didn’t notice how much I had missed the style in the two years that had elapsed between books. It’s great too because, amidst the ache and the burn and the awe, there is always jokes; fun comedy in light of whatever serious situation is happening. I latched on to that, it was something I both really appreciated and could never wait to see when or where it would next pop up. TJ Klune has a talent for knowing the time and the place, and he also has a skill for creating a time and a place if he wants to, anyway.

The story was damning; I cried at least four times? At Wolfsong I’m sure it was at least six (the first time I read it, that is). The touch of tragedy but still triumphing it is always wonderful to see. That and, I don’t know, it’s a huge story and one of the biggest things about it is a loss none of the characters can control. I like a book that makes me feel a lot, so I’m not at all surprised at how much I enjoyed this one. There’s something about being able to cry at a story that’s inherently good; it talks a lot of the skill of the author and the openness of the reader. And I liked it – it makes me feel like even more of a part of the story. It was leagues more than the word intriguing can convey; I’m excited for whatever’s going to come next
adored it

I did a review of Wolfsong when I read it, about two years ago (give or take a little). I remembered feeling like I had to be the luckiest person alive when TJ Klune himself said he enjoyed it. That alone meant a lot to me. What also meant a lot to me was seeing the opening lines of it printed out in front of Ravensong.

It felt nice, first of all, to be remembered and also it felt wonderful to be included and I liked that this little Welsh group got to be seen the way it has. It felt important, and I felt very lucky all over again. It definitely made my day much more enjoyable when I saw it; the hours were a breeze and a constant grin was on my face.

In my last review, I talked about LGBT representation. I still think it’s important and I always will; Ox being openly bi was one of the many reasons I adored him. So, in the blog posts leading up to Ravensong, when I saw “unless I am explicit about a character’s heterosexuality, readers of Ravensong (or any book of mine) should assume said character is queer. Easy, right? Unless you see a dude like balls deep inside a vagina , or a woman talking about how she wants to get all up in some dude and ride him like a wooden rollercoaster, they gay. (Or, even better, they could still be doing BOTH those things because bisexuality is a thing that exists.)”, I was blown away. I was so happy. It was also great to watch this unfold as the truth, with characters embracing who they are and ones being mentioned to be aromantic – it’s refreshing to see. I hope it never, ever stops, and I hope that if I get as far into writing as TJ Klune has, I can do something even a fraction as meaningful and important with my words and my characters.

I hope the book does well, because honestly, it deserves to.

Sian Thomas

Review: Open Mic Night by Sian Thomas

The Fringe’s Open Mic Night was my favourite event last year, and it was the very same this year. Last year and this one, this event was a charming little free one; open to all those who want to share and to those who don’t and just feel like watching on. I’m glad all over again that I’ve gotten the chance to attend it, and share my work with a tightly packed room full of people who want to know what it sounds like because they know just what it feels like to write and want to share, too. It’s an event that has me perfectly in my element, enveloped by people who understand so fully what I’m feeling, and that in itself is irreplaceable.
I was lucky, I think, to have found the event during my first Fringe Festival experience last year, and to see it return and to be able to return myself was such a great feeling that there isn’t really a place in me that I can place it. I enjoy the feeling of a homey cafe and a safe atmosphere where there’s no shame in flubbing one’s words or losing one’s place or anything even remotely like that. It really drove down my nerves and calmed me while I was up there, reading out things I’d written that I’d always assumed would only ever be read in one’s (maybe even just my own) head. I had my reservations at first, also, but they were quelled much faster than I expected, and I don’t doubt in the slightest that that’s down to how supportive the mood in the cafe felt, how everyone was rooting for each other.

It was good, definitely, to watch other people get up and prepare themselves and read their own work. It was nice to be a part of that safe and supportive atmosphere and hope that someone else felt I was doing for them what they had done for me. It was nice to see the differences, too; people with one notebook, three notebooks, their phones, or no scripts at all – just them and their heads and all the words inside them. It was nice to watch the mood shift with each person’s piece or pieces. Some were funny, serious, topical, and so on. Everyone was different, and I really liked that.

The hostess, Alice Downing, was just as great this year as she was the last. This event wouldn’t be the same without her, I really believe that. So I’m glad, all over again, that she was there and the perfect person to eject support and a sense of calm into this room full of slightly apprehensive writers.

Most importantly, I had fun. I hope that everyone else did, too.

So much of the Fringe is still happening in these last five days. I myself only have two more events that I can make it to. I’m having fun, it’s been good, and I know it’ll continue to be great. http://www.cardifffringetheatrefestival.co.uk/shows-tickets/

Sian Thomas

Review Gaslight by Rhys Morgan

 

Gaslight by the local author Eloise Williams really appealed to me as soon as I heard about it, because although I’ve lived in Cardiff my entire life I had, up to that point, never read a novel which utilised this amazing city as its prime setting. I’m personally a big fan of novels set in dense urban cityscapes as I love the idea of the city itself becoming a character in its own right, almost like an overpowering monster that shapes and distorts the lives of the novel’s human inhabitants. And I wasn’t at all disappointed by Gaslight on this front; it managed to portray Cardiff as a city at once both beautiful and vile, whilst simultaneously offering a character-driven narrative replete with personal struggle.

 

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Eloise Williams

 

Set within and around the dingy backstreets of Victorian Cardiff, the plot of Gaslight centres on a young girl named Nansi and her desperate search for her mother who, as she’s been led to believe, abandoned her at a young age. Nansi has been taken in by a man named Sid, the owner of Cardiff’s Empire Theatre, who has provided her with a roof over her head in exchange for her working on the stage as well as performing burglaries for him. As the latter line of work may hint at, Sid is a rather villainous character, who treats Nansi and his other employees with complete contempt, and is only really concerned with profit and success, which are borne out of his own megalomaniacal derangements. However, Sid has made a promise to Nansi to help find her mother with the aid of a private detective once she has earned sufficient amounts of cash from her stage performances and burglaries, but, as you’ve probably already guessed, this offer isn’t quite what it seems on face value.

 

Gaslight really is an enjoyable read: it comprises short, sharp and clear sentences, but at the same time its use of local vernacular reminds you that it’s firmly situated within Cardiff, innit. This is only accentuated further with consistent references to Cardiff’s historic hallmarks, such as Temperance Town, Bute Park, Tiger Bay, and even the South Wales Echo. They’re all there! In addition, it weaves gritty descriptions of the city’s poorer classes into the narrative, for examples coal workers covered in black, thievery, murder, underage drinking and child homelessness. There are also some really nice descriptive metaphors within the prose; “[t]he dark is so thick you could chew it” and “[t]he silvery light makes the china-blue walls glacial”, for example, really stood out for me.

 

I found the character of Nansi to be a really endearing one; throughout the novel she faces many hardships, and there are times when it seems as if she’s hit rock bottom, but despite all of this, her determination and her willingness to do good for others never really leaves her. On the other hand (and without spoiling anything), I did find the final encounter (along with its plot twist) a little bit rushed; it seemed as if too many revelations were being presented all at once, and I thought these could have been spread more evenly throughout the novel. Moreover, I didn’t find myself all that convinced by the relationship between Nansi and her mother—it seemed a bit underwhelming and again, a bit rushed in terms of its writing.

 

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Gaslight’s cover

 

Eloise Williams certainly isn’t reinventing the wheel here, but she is drawing on that classic ‘coming-of-age’ format that will appeal to a lot of readers, particularly younger ones. Much like J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, I actually feel as if I would have enjoyed the novel more if I’d read it as a teenager, because I would have been able to identify with the central character a bit better, who is after all of that age herself. Overall, Gaslight is a solid novel which offers elements of comedy and tragedy in equal parts, and although it does have its flaws, it’s well written, entertaining, and very easy to read, so it’s probably worth your time.

 

By Rhys Morgan