Books: On Chesil Beach

815309On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Published March 23, 2007
star-4
Quietly moving in its simplicity, On Chesil Beach is a short but poignant novel about how one moment can irrevocably shape the lives of two people.

On Chesil Beach tells an outwardly simple story of a pair of young lovers on their honeymoon in 1962. The romantic weekend should be a joyous occasion but, constrained by propriety,  Florence and Edward are plagued by a series of miscommunications that quickly derail their honeymoon. Florence is what we would now call a sex-repulsed asexual woman, but of course in a time before sexual liberation, she has no label, no reference for what she feels. Believing her distaste for sexual intimacy with her partner to be a personal failing, she suffers in silence until, in a fatal moment, she can’t hide her disgust any longer.

Edward is no less sympathetic. It’s apparent as the honeymoon unfolds, and in flashbacks to his courtship of Florence, that he loves her, but lacking context for Florence’s reactions (her muscles are tense because she’s disgusted and ashamed and steeling herself to be touched in a way that she doesn’t desire), he draws the wrong conclusion, mistaking her tension for excitement.

It’s impossible to read this book without getting swept up in the tragedy; Certainly my overwhelming emotion throughout was a deeply felt sympathy towards the characters, both of whom are a product of their time. In the years before the sexual revolution challenged traditional codes of behaviour, Florence and Edward are burdened by their inexperience. Unable to talk openly with one another about their feelings, desires, and expectations, they both suffer as a result.

McEwan’s prose is gorgeous as it communicates the innermost thoughts of Florence and Edward, as well as the circumstances that have shaped each character. Yet I can’t say that On Chesil Beach blew me away and I suspect the story won’t have a long lasting impact on me. Maybe it’s simply a matter of genre preference, since I tend to prefer historical epics and fantasy novels to literary fiction. Regardless, On Chesil Beach may not be my favourite book this year but it’s well worth picking up and immersing yourself in this melancholic read for a few hours.

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Monthly Wrap-up: June

A bit of a slower month of reading for me again as I returned from my trip in late May  and, still jet lagged, immediately started a new job with a sharp learning curve. I love being able to walk to work, but have to admit that the lack of a commute is impacting my reading time. Obviously I need to make the time to read more in the evenings, or need to find books that draw me in so I don’t feel the pull of Netflix!

Tin Man by Sarah Winman  small 5 stars + Review
Runaways, Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home by Rainbow Rowell  small 4 stars + Review
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson  small-2-stars + Review
Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly  small 4 half stars + RTC
Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann  small 3 half stars + Review

Book of the Month: Sarah Winman’s quietly affecting Tin Man packed such an emotional punch that I actually cried reading it (and I’m not one to cry easily when it comes to books)! I immediately texted Rachel with all of my feelings and I’m still not over it. Highly recommended!

Runner-up: Amberlough also read like a punch to the gut. I was so tense while reading this book that I felt like I needed a massage after I finished. Set in a fantasy world similar to Weimar Republic Berlin, it’s one of those books where you know things are going to get worse due to historical precedent, but it doesn’t make it any easier to read. I loved the political machinations and the cast of compelling and morally ambiguous characters.

Least Favourite: It took me DAYS to read Treasure Island, a book aimed at children that comes in at a slim 187 pages. I’ve read some brilliant classics before, Jane Eyre and Les Miserables come to mind, but Treasure Island is not one of them. I appreciate its contribution to pirate lore, but found this story incredibly dull.

***

Seen on Stage: June marked the end of the 2017/18 season for The National Ballet of Canada. I have to admit that the summer season didn’t thrill me, but since I saw the company perform my two favourite story ballets back-to-back last fall, I really can’t complain too much! I did really enjoy Innocence Lost, a play based on the case of Steven Truscott, a 14-year-old boy who was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a classmate in 1959. Truscott was reprieved and released on parole in 1969. His case has come to be synonymous with miscarriages of justice, and his conviction was overturned in 2007.

Innocence Lost (play) by Soulpepper
Frame by Frame by the National Ballet of Canada
Paz de la Jolla, The Man in Black, and Cacti by The National Ballet of Canada

***
Coming up in July: Rachel and I are planning to FINALLY read some Robin Hobb! Hobb’s books have been on my TBR for a few years now, so I’m really looking forward to diving in. Besides that I’ve been in a bit of a book slump and I’m still behind on my goodreads challenge, so I’m trying to be more of a mood reader than usual and don’t have a lot of specific plans. In terms of theatre I’m once again reviewing some Toronto Fringe Festival productions for My Entertainment World, so I may be a bit scarce for the first few weeks of July as I concentrate my energies on writing mini reviews over there.

Hope everyone experiencing the crazy heat that we are here in Toronto stays cool and hydrated!

Books: Tin Man

36676536Tin Man by Sarah Winman
Published May 15, 2018
star-5
Tin Man is a quiet, but deeply moving novel about the relationship between two men. I didn’t expect to be as touched by the story as I was; It snuck up on me, unfolding slowly, patiently until before I knew it this tiny, thoughtful book had imprinted itself on my heart forever.

Telling the story of two childhood friends, Michael and Ellis, who for a brief time were romantically involved, Tin Man begins with Ellis alone and barely holding it together after the death of his wife. We’re left to wonder where Michael is and what’s become of him in the intervening years. Non-linear scenes piece together the story, which is told first from Ellis’ point of view and then finally from Michael’s.

In a novel like this the characters are everything, and Winman has created a cast of incredibly human major and minor characters. I adored Michael, Ellis, Annie, and Mabel, and selfishly wished that I could spend more time with them but, as someone with a tendency to overwrite, I admire Tin Man all the more for being exactly as long as it needed to be and no longer. It is a masterpiece of brevity.

Winman’s prose is deceptively simple, but evocative. Each word seems to be perfectly placed to tell the story in a compassionate and delicate voice. Tin Man is admittedly more literary than my tastes usually run, but so vivid and quietly heartbreaking that I find it difficult to imagine a reader not won over by its charms.

Often the books that wreck me, that leave me emotionally compromised, are longer than Tin Man. They’re immensely readable, but measure four hundred, five hundred, even six hundred pages in length. Tin Man did it in just over two hundred pages. I was left teary-eyed and physically aching by the end of the book, while at the same time overwhelmed with warm thoughts through the quiet moments of humanity and kindness that Tin Man depicts. A poignant exploration of love, loss, grief, and absence, Tin Man packs an emotional punch and is undoubtedly the best book that I’ve read in 2018 so far.

Books: Treasure Island

1326420Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
first published January 28, 1882
star-2
After visiting the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh, it seemed only natural that I should continue my challenge to read more classics with one of the best loved Scottish authors. Let’s be honest though, the main reason why I chose Treasure Island is because my favourite television show, Black Sails, acts as a loose prequel to the events of Stevenson’s adventure story.

In the novel, Jim Hawkins discovers a map among the effects of an old sailor, who dies while staying at the Hawkins’ family inn. Deducing that the map leads to the location where the infamous pirate Captain Flint buried his treasure, the local physician and district squire buy a ship, gather a crew, and set sail. However, the crew turn out to be former pirates from Flint’s crew and plot a mutiny against the honest men.

Sounds interesting right? Wrong! No book about pirates written for children should be this dull! I can understand why Treasure Island would capture the imagination of readers in the nineteenth century but this is one classic that the years have not treated kindly. Never before has 187 pages felt so long!

The biggest problem is that Treasure Island is written in over-descriptive prose that robs the narrative of any sense of urgency or tension. The stakes are never high enough to feel as though there’s any real danger, and the dialogue is filled with nautical slang to the point where it’s difficult to understand what the characters are actually saying.

With the possible exception of Jim Hawkins, the boy narrator, the characters are thinly written. The most enduring character is, understandably, Silver, who shows some promise in his jovial persona but underlying self-interest. Silver unfortunately doesn’t have a large enough role to save this novel though.  It’s easy to see why Treasure Island has been adapted successfully, but the source material does not stand the test of time. It’s particularly distressing that Treasure Island is recommended to pre-teen and teenage boys, who are often among the most reluctant readers.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s influence on the depiction of pirates in pop culture cannot be underestimated. Treasure Island created many pirate tropes including X marks the spot, Long John Silver with his parrot, and nautical slang. These have been cemented in our minds through its various adaptations from more traditional films to new classics like Muppet Treasure Island. This contribution to pirate lore is Treasure Island‘s legacy. Stevenson has created a foundation on which more in-depth and engaging pirate stories can grow for future generations. My advice? Leave Treasure Island on the shelf and enjoy the media it’s inspired instead.

Books: Let’s Talk About Love

31625039Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann
Published January 23, 2018
star-3-half
Protagonist Alice is a black, teenage, biromantic asexual student who’s still trying to figure herself out. Her parents are pushing her towards a career she isn’t interested in, and Alice’s two best friends are heading towards marriage, making her feel like a third wheel. Then there’s the icing on the cake; her last girlfriend believed that Alice’s lack of desire for sex translated into a lack of love and broke up with her. She’s understandably reluctant about pursuing romantic relationships, but when Alice’s new coworker at the library exceeds her colour-coded scale of attractiveness (her Cutie Code™ ) she begins to question everything.

YA contemporary really isn’t my genre. When Alice introduced her Cutie Code™ in the first few chapters, my first thought was, ‘oh here we go’, and I steeled myself for a sickeningly fluffy romance. While Let’s Talk About Love‘s vibe is definitely a little cutesy for my personal tastes, it’s an enjoyable, realistic, and refreshing addition to the still disappointingly slim selection of books where asexuality is represented.

The plot is admittedly thin. Let’s Talk About Love focuses more on Alice’s character development and her interpersonal problems, than it does a broader storyline, but putting aside Alice’s sexuality for a moment, the subplots of well-intentioned but overbearing parents pushing their child into a career she doesn’t want, and of increasingly feeling like the third wheel in a friendship are incredibly relatable and will appeal to readers. The novel also directly (sometimes a little too directly in a way that feels more like a PSA than an organic conversation) tackles some of the misconceptions that asexuals face and challenges the idea that sex is required in order to have a romantic, loving relationship.

This quote alone, said by a therapist to Alice, is worth half a star!

“My advice to you is to be prepared to educate. It may feel unfair that the onus of that responsibility will fall on you, but when most people think the A stands for Ally, you will have to speak louder, with bravery and dignity, to be heard. You will have to be willing to inform and to educate. And you will have to know when it is time to remove yourself from situations and disconnect from those who either do not understand or are unwilling to.”

Alice herself is a delight. She’s not without flaws – her relationship with her two closest friends is codependent to say the least and she has a tendency to ignore her problems rather than confronting them – but she’s also bubbly, thoughtful, and compassionate. I rooted for her throughout, and I loved that she’s not just an asexual woman, but a black, biromantic asexual woman. I also really enjoyed her love interest Takumi, a kindergarten teacher who is patient and loves to cook.

Although I wasn’t overwhelmed by the book, I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that it exists! There are so few depictions of asexuality in fiction and in the media that every time I see a book or television show with an ace character it feels like a triumph for a community whose biggest issue is erasure.

The Netflix Book Tag

I wasn’t tagged for this specifically, but I remember it going around a few months ago and bookmarked it to do when I had more time.

RECENTLY WATCHED: The last book you finished reading

31625039Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann, which is a YA contemporary novel featuring a black, biromantic asexual protagonist. I’m not always a big fan of the genre, so I found this a little cutesy for my personal tastes, but I think it’s a hugely important book and I’m so glad that it exists. The romance is very sweet and Alice’s troubles with her parents (who are pushing her into a career that doesn’t interest her), and with feeling like a third wheel are relatable as well.

TOP PICKS: A book that has been recommended to you based on books you have previously read
AssasinsApprentice
A few friends have recommended Robin Hobb’s books to me and one even left her copies with me when she moved to New Zealand! I don’t know why I haven’t gotten to them yet, but I’m planning to dive in next month!

 

RECENTLY ADDED: The last book you bought
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I bought The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff in the gift shop at Housesteads Roman Fort, and read it while on vacation. I don’t often buy books as souvenirs but this was a good purchase!

 

POPULAR ON NETFLIX: Books that everyone knows about (2 you’ve read and 2 you haven’t read or have no interest in reading)

Have Read: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Circe
Haven’t Read Yet: Lincoln in the Bardo, The Poppy War

COMEDIES: A funny book
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I don’t read a lot of comedies, but I really enjoyed Lianne Oelke’s Nice Try, Jane Sinner, about a teenage girl who signs up to be on a community college version of Big Brother in order to afford moving away from home.

 


DRAMAS: A character who is a drama queen/king

112077Francis Crawford of Lymond.

Here’s his entrance in Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game of Kings: “Lucent and delicate, Drama entered, mincing like a cat.” In the second book he apologizes to another character for his repeated dramatic entrances. He is the High King of Drama and I love him.


ANIMATED: A book with cartoons on the cover
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I don’t know about cartoons, but the cover for Leah on the Offbeat features a stylized version of Leah Burke.

 


WATCH IT AGAIN: A book or series that you want to re-read


219811The problem with me is that I’m a serial re-reader who loves to revisit my favourite books – especially when I hit a bit of a reading slump. The book I just finished, Amberlough, reminded me in some ways of Sarah Monette’s excellent Doctrine of Labyrinths series, and in other ways of Vale Aida’s Magpie Ballads duology, so those are the books I’m most itching to re-read right now, but I’m trying to work through the urge in order to read some new books!

DOCUMENTARIES: A non-fiction book you’d recommend to everyone
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I read VERY little non-fiction, but I really enjoyed Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, which weaves together the story of serial killer Henry H. Holmes with that of  Chicago’s World Fair of 1893.

 

ACTION AND ADVENTURE: An action-packed book
SixOfCrows
Has anything ever kept me on the edge of my seat like the Six of Crows duology? I love the brisk pace of the series, which effectively balances character moments with action scenes, to create books that make you go, ‘maybe just one more chapter…’


NEW RELEASES: A book that just came out or will be coming out soon that you can’t wait to read

39676520By this point John Boyne is on my list of authors that I trust enough to automatically buy or borrow. I’ve read three of his books so far and each one I’ve given 4 stars or above, with The Heart’s Invisible Furies being named my favourite read of 2017. I CAN’T WAIT for his newest novel, A Ladder to the Sky, which comes out this summer. I think Steph, Rachel, and I are planning a buddy read, so stay tuned for that in a few months!

Not tagging anyone in particular, but if you’re interested please consider yourself tagged and ping back to me so I can read your answers!

The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2018

Last year I participated in this book tag, which offers a great chance to look back on your reading for the first half of the year. I’m still a little in shock that it’s been almost an entire year, but here’s a review of my reading in 2018 so far.

Question 1 – The best book you’ve read so far in 2018

Just sneaking in under the wire (I read it last weekend), the best book I’ve read so far this year is Tin Man by Sarah Winman. It’s a thoughtful, quiet book about the relationship between two men in England. Told first through the perspective of one character and then through the diary entries of the other, it’s a poignant story that packs an emotional punch.

The runner-up couldn’t be more different. I’ve never read anything like Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne. Told through prose that is by turns lyrical, eerie, and thoughtful, Borne follows a scavenger in a post-apocalyptic city who brings home and cares for a sentient being she names Borne. But as the being grows and changes, questions arise about Borne’s purpose. Serving as a moving exploration into what it means to be human, Borne is the kind of book that stays with you long after you’ve read it.

Besides these two choices though, I haven’t been reading a lot of quality books so far in 2018 and I’m hoping to change that in the second half of the year!

Question 2 – Your favorite sequel of the year

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I’ve only read one or two sequels this year, so by default it’s The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden. I actually found The Girl in the Tower a little disappointing though. I obviously still enjoyed it – I gave the book four stars – but it just didn’t cast the same spell over me as The Bear and the Nightingale, which was one of my favourite reads last year. I’m still eagerly looking forward to finishing the trilogy next year though.

Question 3 – A new release that you haven’t read but really want to

I have The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang on hold at the library! It’s received glowing reviews on goodreads and from my blogging friend Hadeer, and looks right up my alley as an adult fantasy featuring rich worldbuilding and an intriguing heroine. Similarly I’ve heard wonderful things about Kirsty Logan’s The Gloaming, and I’m looking forward to Tessa Gratton’s The Queens of Innis Lear, a retelling of one of my favourite Shakespeare plays.

Question 4 – Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

I’ve read three of John Boyne’s books so far and have really enjoyed them all, so I can’t wait for his latest, A Ladder to the Sky! I’m also really looking forward to Pat Barker’s take on The Iliad in The Silence of the Girls. There are also a bunch of sequels I can’t wait to read: Seth Dickinson’s The Monster Baru Cormorant, which continues the tale of Baru’s climb to infiltrate the system that colonized her island, killed one of her fathers, and rewrote her culture, V.E. Schwab’s Vengeful, the continuation of her story about supervillains, Record of a Spaceborn Few, the latest in Becky Chmbers’ Wayfarers series, and Kirsten White’s Bright We Burn, the final book in her Conqueror’s Saga about a gender-swapped Vlad the Impaler.

Question 5 – Your biggest disappointment


The three reads that, in one way or another, didn’t live up to my expectations were Circe by Madeline Miller, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, and The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill. I loved The Song of Achilles and was really looking forward to seeing Miller’s take on a divisive female character like Circe, but I found the heroine passive and thought the book dragged in the middle. I wanted to love Dear Martin, but it read very much on the young side of YA so this was more a mismatch of book and reader than a reflection on the book itself. I really disliked The Lonely Hearts Hotel. It’s whimsical prose was tonally a complete mismatch for the dark and disturbing subject matter and as a result the book ended up sounding rather flippant about topics like sexual abuse, prostitution, and drug abuse.

Question 6 – Biggest surprise of the year

33413915
Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke. I went in with no idea what to expect and, as a YA contemporary, which isn’t really my genre, didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. The book follows Jane as she attends community college to finish her last few classes of high school after an ‘incident’ caused her to be absent for the last semester. Yearning for independence, but unavailable to afford a place on her own, Jane lies about her age and signs up for a Big Brother-inspired community college show. So long as she stays on the show, she has a place to stay and a shot at the prize! Jane is a fiercely funny, sometimes ruthless heroine that I rooted for and I loved the unique premise of the book.

Question 7 – Favourite new to you or debut author

Probably Sarah Winman. Based solely on Tin Man, I’d love to read more of her works. My mom read one of her other books, When God Was A Rabbit, several years ago and marked it as one of her favourites, so I should probably start there!

Question 8 – Your new fictional crush

Pass.

Question 9 – New favourite character

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Jane Eyre from Charlotte Bronte’s novel of the same name. I FINALLY got around to reading Jane Eyre for the first time and it was everything I hoped it would be. It sucked me in and I loved Jane with all of her spirit, intelligence, and passion. Special mention to a few other fierce females I’ve loved this year though: Evelyn Hugo is often unlikable, but I couldn’t help admiring her ruthless pragmatism, ambition, and ability to go after what she wanted most in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and, as I was mentioning, I adored Jane Sinner, a flawed, funny, competitive high school student competing on a community college reality program like Big Brother in Nice Try, Jane Sinner.

Question 10 – A book that made you cry

36676536
Once again, my answer is Sarah Winman’s Tin Man!  It’s a slim volume that you can read in a matter of hours, but I found it incredibly moving and there were definitely some waterworks by the end!

Question 11 – A comic book that made you happy

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I’m so glad this questions exists this year because I was so delighted by the first arc of Rainbow Rowell’s continuation of my favourite Marvel comics series, Runaways! Rowell captured the essence of each of the Runaways characters and brought them back together in a way that felt organic and not forced. I can’t wait to see where she takes them next and how the relationships between these characters have changed in the year or more that they were apart.

Question 12 – Your favourite book to movie adaptation that you’ve seen this year


The adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda to Love, Simon. I actually saw the movie first, but they’re different enough (while still capturing the essence of the characters) that I don’t think it would have mattered, I fell in love with both the fluffy but compelling novel and this movie, which had one of the most engaged audiences I’ve ever seen!

Question 13 – Favourite book post you’ve done this year

I was really pleased with how this week’s Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Awaken My Wanderlust post shaped up, and I enjoyed the First Impressions post I did early this year where I read the first 50 pages of five books and wrote about my initial thoughts and whether or not I planned to continue reading them. As far as reviews go, I can’t lie I’m pretty proud of my comparing the ridiculous sounding summary for Borne, a book that actually works extremely well, to what the pitch for SpongeBob SquarePants must have sounded like.

Question 14 – The most beautiful book you have bought/received this year

35099568
I buy very few books (I’m a heavy library user), but I did purchase the beautiful paperback edition of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, one of the best books I read last year.

Question 15 – What are some books you need to read by the end of the year

All of the upcoming releases I mentioned, and I’m trying to read some more classics, so hopefully East of Eden by John Steinbeck and Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin.

Tagging anyone who wants to do this!

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?

Books: Runaways – Find Your Way Home

35249910Runaways, Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home
Written by Rainbow Rowell, Illustrated by Kris Anka
star-4
What a delight it is to see my favourite Marvel comics characters reunited and back in action! Acclaimed YA author Rainbow Rowell’s revival of Marvel’s Runaways, a title that was cancelled in 2007, is a promising debut that will leave readers wanting more.

I usually don’t review graphic novels because, with the exception of contained stories like Watchmen or Marvel 1602, it feels a bit like reviewing a third of a novel. The trade paperbacks (or ‘trades’) that I read often collect six issues of an ongoing comic series. Sure there may be a contained arc in there, but there are often also plotlines, and character development that take place over a longer period and it seems unfair to review something incomplete.

I couldn’t quite help myself when it comes to Runaways though for a few reasons:

1) This is my FAVOURITE comics series of all time. It’s the only series I’ve cared enough about to make special trips to a comic book store to buy individual issues.

2) In 2007 the title was indefinitely postponed. The characters were split up and appeared only occasionally and separately in other Marvel titles. I’ve literally been whining about this cancellation for eight years.

3) In the current push for diversity in fiction, Runaways is even more relevant than it was when first published. It’s a team of teenagers who talk and act like teenagers, and who represent diverse backgrounds. In what other series could you find a lesbian alien who glows like a rainbow and flies, a genius latino cyborg, an overweight agnostic jewish girl and her genetically engineered dinosaur, all led by a Japanese-American witch?

and 4) This revival is being penned by a popular YA author, so it may be of interest to the book blogging community.

So how does Rainbow Rowell’s first arc for Runaways fare? Arguably the first several issues are the most challenging because Rowell is faced with the task of believably reassembling a team of characters who have been apart for several months, moved on, changed, and (in some cases) even died. So I was pleasantly surprised by just how smooth the transition was! Rowell captures the essence of each of the Runaways, showcasing their insecurities and what makes them so likeable. Most of the characters have gone through some changes, yet they remain recognizable and the growth feels organic.

In the world of comics there is certainly precedent for bringing back deceased characters, but Runaways has always had a more grounded feel to it, despite the super-powers. With the exception of a few early issues where the teenagers struggled with identity, there are no costumes and no superhero names here, just a well-meaning group of teens trying to atone for some of the sins of their supervillain parents. Without spoiling anything, I worried a little about whether a resurrection would cheapen the original death scene, and was pleased to find that it didn’t. There’s still a sense of loss and a pervasive bittersweet feeling to the scene that made it work for me.

Although I had some quibbles when I saw the initial designs for each character in this book (particularly Chase and his manbun), I actually really enjoyed the art style once I got used to it.

For those who’ve never read Runaways before but are debating jumping aboard, there are enough notes in the narration to make reading this volume possible without context, but I’d recommend backtracking and reading the original issues either first or at the same time as Rowell’s continuation to fully understand and appreciate the characters and the series.

I’m so thrilled to have Runaways back in comic stores and can’t wait to see where the series goes next!