Book Review: She’s Leaving Home by William Shaw

December 10, 2014 Aidan Adult, Mystery 0 Comments

SShe's Leaving Homehe’s Leaving Home

Author: William Shaw

Published: Published February 11th 2014 by Mulholland Books
Previously published in the UK as A Song From Dead Lips

Genres: Detective, Historical

Find this book on Goodreads

Blurb: London, 1968: The body of a teenage girl is found just steps away from the Beatles’ Abbey Road recording studio.

The police are called to a residential street in St John’s Wood where an unidentified young woman has been strangled. Detective Sergeant Cathal Breen believes she may be one of the many Beatles fans who regularly camp outside Abbey Road Studios. With his reputation tarnished by an inexplicable act of cowardice, this is Breen’s last chance to prove he’s up to the job.

Breen is of the generation for whom reaching adulthood meant turning into one’s parents and accepting one’s place in the world. But the world around him is changing beyond recognition. Nothing illustrates the shift more than Helen Tozer, a brazen and rambunctious young policewoman assisting him with the case. Together they navigate a world on edge, where conservative tradition gives way to frightening new freedoms–and troubling new crimes.

Aidan’s Review

It has been a while since I found time to read anything for some pretty obvious reasons. When I have opened a book, it has usually been held up in front of a small child and featured brightly colored elephants,  dinosaurs or bears having adventures (by which I mean performing simple, everyday tasks that adults take for granted – but more on that in another post). My ‘to read’ pile has grown and grown to the point that it may soon outgrow my bedside cabinet and I have found excuse after excuse to delay picking them up or, to my shame, I have started some and simply never finished them.

This book turned out to be the one that broke through. I came to it relatively blind, grabbing it off the shelf mostly on the basis of its cover and blurb. It was intended to fill up a lunch break where I was stuck at work without my car and I fully expected to do what I had done with every other book I had grabbed over the past few months but this one grabbed me. I found myself caring about the characters, intrigued by an element of the setting (I knew nothing about the Biafran war prior to reading this and the book left me wanting to learn more) and impressed by the way the novel explored the societal changes taking place in Britain during the late Sixties without becoming sentimental.

Typically when a work reflects on the Sixties there is a tendency to paint the decade as a time of hope and liberation but Shaw’s novel recognizes that while one generation was excited about the changes that were looming for Britain, those same changes seemed confusing or threatening to others within society. The novel’s main character, Cathal Breen, is a great case in point. He is something of an outsider himself, both within the Police Force and British society as a whole. He is the son of Irish immigrants and never quite seems to click with his colleagues (we learn at the beginning of the novel that he had run away when a fellow officer was threatened at knife point – an action that has marked him out as a coward) who frequently show themselves to be casually sexist, racist and violent. Anyone who has seen the excellent British fantasy-crime show, Life On Mars, will be familiar with the types.

While Breen and Tozer, the young female officer assigned to a murder case with him, are shown as being more progressive than those around them, they are not themselves perfect. Tozer is bright, sparky and appealing but while she is clearly part of the new, more hopeful and liberated generation, we would still regard some of her language as offensive. A reminder perhaps that social progress is never instantaneous and that being socially conscious in one respect does not guarantee the same level of care in every aspect of life.

I found both characters likable and believable, enjoying the way their partnership and eventual friendship builds throughout the novel. The conflict between them felt genuine and grounded in understandable emotions. When I ask myself why this was the novel that broke my DNF streak, I feel that the answer lies in the characterization. I quickly came to care about both of these characters and I wanted them to figure out a way they could work together (and perhaps get together). Both of our leads are given their own back stories that inform their characters and which we learn more about in the course of this first novel. This is apparently the first book in a trilogy of stories so we can expect further developments there (the second novel, The Kings of London, will be released early in 2015).

The mystery sometimes feels almost secondary to the characters and the setting, though that may just be a reflection of how it emerges from them and interacts with the novel’s theme of generational conflict. This is not the sort of mystery story that is packed with red herrings and dramatic twists. Our focus is always on how the things Breen and Tozer discover affect them and their relationship.

The characters we encounter in the course of the investigation, both in terms of the suspects and the wider net of characters we encounter, are both interesting and colorful. I enjoyed discovering the connections between them and while I was ahead of the investigation for each of the key revelations, I never . There are certainly some very dramatic moments and the solution, when it is revealed, is not only satisfying in how it ties up various things we have learned in Breen and Tozer’s investigation but it also works beautifully with the broader themes of the novel.

Sometimes a historical novel’s setting feels incidental – color grafted onto a plot to add interest. What impressed me most about this book was how very necessary the setting proved to be. Shaw creates a mystery that is drawn out of the fractures and challenges that were confronting British society during that decade. In doing so he creates a work that is more than a piece of genre fiction. This is something bigger, bolder and more interesting. It is not a perfect work. There are moments where the main mystery might have been more tightly paced and the prose is occasionally a little awkward, the casual racism and sexism can sometimes feel premeditated, but this is an impressive and promising debut and I am keen to read further mysteries featuring Breen and Tozer.


Graphic Novel Review: Through The Woods by Emily Carrol

October 29, 2014 Alisa Graphic Novel Reviews 3 Comments


18659623Through The Woods

Author:  Emily Carrol

Published: July 15th 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Genres:  Young Adult, Horror, Paranormal

Find this book on Goodreads

Blurb: Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss. These chilling tales spring from the macabre imagination of acclaimed and award-winning comic creator Emily Carroll. Come take a walk in the woods and see what awaits you there…


Things I liked:

  • The visual design and layout of this graphic novel was really unique and gorgeous.
  • The stories seemed to connect and flow well together in spite of really being standalones.
  • The use of color was so minimal that it was really very striking.

Things I disliked:

  • That the endings were often so open ended. I am finding more and more as a reader I prefer a definitive conclusion to the stories I read.

Favorite Moment:

My favorite story was the last one because I think the twist was genuinely terrifying whereas most of the stories were more atmospheric.

What I thought of the art style:




The art is absolutely what makes these stories work. Each panel is gorgeously designed and unique in style, though definitely it had a consistent style for each of the panels. I love the minimal use of bright colors, it made this graphic novel really standout.

 Alisa’s Verdict:


I picked this graphic novel up on a whim when I was looking through the Young Adult section because the cover was so visually striking and I loved the unique style of the panels inside. This graphic novel wasn’t entirely what I expected based on the blurb on the back, the stories are standalones and each one concludes with a spooky but vague ending. It reminded me of the kinds of stories you would tell at summer camp around a fireside at night time, in that they were short and atmospheric.  I would have preferred if the stories had a more definitive beginning, middle and conclusion. That being said I still really enjoyed this graphic novel and would recommend it to those who are looking for a spooky but not horrific read for the Halloween season.


Book Review: Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

October 27, 2014 Alisa Book Reviews 2 Comments

13188676Ignite Me

Author: Tahereh Mafi

Series: Shatter Me #3

Published: February 4th 2014 by HarperCollins

Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Dystopia, Romance

Find this book on Goodreads

Blurb: The heart-stopping conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Shatter Me series, which Ransom Riggs, bestselling author of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, called “a thrilling, high-stakes saga of self-discovery and forbidden love.”

With Omega Point destroyed, Juliette doesn’t know if the rebels, her friends, or even Adam are alive. But that won’t keep her from trying to take down The Reestablishment once and for all. Now she must rely on Warner, the handsome commander of Sector 45. The one person she never thought she could trust. The same person who saved her life. He promises to help Juliette master her powers and save their dying world . . . but that’s not all he wants with her.


 Alisa’s Review:


I am notoriously bad about starting series and not finishing them! I started the Shatter Me series quite awhile ago, I enjoyed the first two books and have wanted for quite awhile to finish the series! In the next couple of weeks I am going to try to finish several series that I have liked but have drifted low on my TBR list.

*** Review contains spoilers for series***

At this point I have read several YA dystopian stories and I have definitely come to a conclusion that they tend to fall into one of two categories, stories that are more interested in the setting and those that are more interested in the character development that setting creates. I think Shatter me as a series is the latter in that it is more interested in the romance than the background dystopian setting, definitely the third book focuses a good deal on finalizing the triangle that was developed in the first novel.

Juliette is an interesting character and I think her development throughout the series was fun to read about, she starts out the series very emotionally vulnerable and ends the series very strong/capable. The story centers around her relationships with various characters, especially her romances with Warner/Adam. I believed her development in this story and her reasons for ending her relationship with Adam make sense. However I wasn’t sure I entirely bought the drastic character change of Adam, he was really unpleasant in this book and it was hard to see why Juliette ever liked him. It felt like the author felt she had to downgrade Adam in order to make Warner a more viable option long term for Juliette, which I felt was unnecessary as  Warner was so well developed throughout the series that  her reasons for choosing him instead made a lot of sense to me. Warner is a wonderful character, very nuanced and I really enjoyed getting to know him as the story progressed. That being said probably my favorite character in the series was Kenji, he was so funny, honest and real. I liked Kenji so much that I wished she would write a book that just featured him in the main role!

My biggest problem with the book is how the larger story ends, it is only resolved in the last set of chapters and is concluded in a less than satisfactory way. After several books worth of build up about Juliette taking down the establishment and how impossible it seems to all involved, it was remarkably easy in the end for her to defeat.  Overall I would recommend this series, if you go into it with that expectation that this is a great romance story with an interesting setting.

*I am currently on maternity leave and taking care of a newborn, so I have less time to draw a full illustration for each of my reviews. So until I have a bit more free time I am going to just do written reviews as they are easier to complete one handed LOL





Discussion Post: Happy Birthday To Me!

October 25, 2014 Alisa Uncategorized 8 Comments

discussion-3 smalliconalisa So today is my birthday! Yesterday my husband had the day off from work so we spent the entire day together, thanks to my parents who kindly took care of MJ all day long.  It was really fun, first we went out for Sushi which I haven’t had for the last nine months because it is not recommended during pregnancy. Afterwards we went to Barnes and Noble and spent hours walking around looking at the books, I ended up picking up a new graphic novel. Then we went to a couple of different stores and took our time looking around, honestly another thing I really took for granted before having MJ was having enough free time to leisurely do anything. Then in the evening we went to see the tour of Phantom of The Opera, because my husband had never seen it live. We really had a great time and before hand we had a nice romantic dinner out.  I am going to do a longer post later about the Phantom of The Opera tour and some of the changes I noticed etc. This morning my parents watched MJ as I took the opportunity to sleep in and then they took me out to breakfast! Today I am just chilling out and watching Miranda while I watch dumb television. It has been a good birthday so far :)


Graphic Novel Review: Suee and The Shadow Part II

October 22, 2014 Alisa Graphic Novel Reviews, Uncategorized 1 Comment



22092014Suee and The Shadow Part II

Author: Ginger Ly

Published: Published May 15th 2014 by Bhive Comics

Genres: Middle Grade, Detective, Paranormal

Find this book on Goodreads

Blurb: Something terribly wrong is happening at Suee’s school. Can anyone save the school? The Zero Detective Club is on the case! New friends Suee, Haeun and Hyunwoo must solve the mystery of the Zeroes before they fall victim to the Zero disease. The Zero Detective Club must make a plan, follow the clues and save the day. However, one member of the club has something she isn’t telling the others.





Alisa’s Verdict:


I reviewed the first graphic novel last year and I was eager to pick up the next volume in this series to see how this story would pan out! The story continues with Suee trying to find out what is causing the loners and outsiders in her school to become ‘zeroes’ (which is essentially zombies who are not in control of their own actions.)  Suee continues to be a fun and sarcastic character who I enjoy watching interact with other characters. As for the mystery, to an adult reader it is obvious there is a connection between the events in the school and what happened to Suee in the first chapter of this story. However there is still are a lot of unanswered questions and the overall tone of the story is dark/suspenseful. This volume like the first is quite short and though it has a great ending I wonder why the author has chosen to split them up into so many parts as it feels like it could be told in one larger volume. I definitely will check out the next volume as I am eager to see what happens to the characters, especially Hyeun. As for the art in continues to impress with it bold lines and use of black, red, white tones. It definitely has a gothic tone to it and I could see many middle school students relating to Suee as a character.




Book Review: Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Gier

October 20, 2014 Alisa Book Reviews 2 Comments

5967f141c642cb6c91640751f408165dSapphire Blue

Series: Precious Stone Trilogy #2

Author: Kerstin Gier

Published: October 30th 2012

Genres: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction

Find this book on Goodreads

Blurb: Gwen’s life has been a rollercoaster since she discovered she was the Ruby, the final member of the secret time-traveling Circle of Twelve. In between searching through history for the other time-travelers and asking for a bit of their blood (gross!), she’s been trying to figure out what all the mysteries and prophecies surrounding the Circle really mean.

At least Gwen has plenty of help. Her best friend Lesley follows every lead diligently on the Internet. James the ghost teaches Gwen how to fit in at an eighteenth century party. And Xemerius, the gargoyle demon who has been following Gwen since he caught her kissing Gideon in a church, offers advice on everything. Oh, yes. And of course there is Gideon, the Diamond. One minute he’s very warm indeed; the next he’s freezing cold. Gwen’s not sure what’s going on there, but she’s pretty much destined to find out.


Alisa’s Review:

smalliconalisaI very much enjoyed the first book in this trilogy Ruby Red. I have always liked Time Travel stories and I liked the new twist that the first book in this series gave that instead of traveling in a machine, that in fact the characters in this in this book are born with the ability to time travel.  This book continues the journey of the main character Gwyneth as she comes to terms with her abilities and attempts to find the solution to some of the unanswered questions in the first book.

This second book feels rather like the first in that it is slowly building up towards an epic conclusion. As well it continues to develop her romance and relationship with Gideon. I continue to like Gideon as a character, he is complex and it is not always entirely clear what his motivations are. I like the push and pull of their relationship in this book, at times it seems they are getting close and at other times it seems they are further apart than ever. I felt the relationship was better developed in this story and I got a more real sense of why Gideon likes Gwyneth. As well this book introduces a Gargoyle character- Xemerius who becomes Gwyneth’s sidekick in this novel and though I found him jarring at first, I eventually really enjoyed him and several of his observations are very funny.

The best part of the story for me however is the mystery that surrounds this secret society and I enjoyed the revelations that are found in this book. I especially like the conclusion of this book because it set up a great sense of tension and has made me eager to want to continue with the series.  This book series is  great fun and I definitely recommend it for those who are looking for a lighthearted adventure story with romance and for those who love a good time travel tale!

*I am currently on maternity leave and taking care of a newborn, so I have less time to draw a full illustration for each of my reviews. So until I have a bit more free time I am going to just do written reviews as they are easier to complete one handed LOL




Discussion Post: The Fine Art Of Multi-Tasking

October 16, 2014 Alisa Uncategorized 12 Comments

discussion-3 smalliconalisa As you all know we just welcomed our first child into the world! It is amazing how quickly one event can change your life so entirely, it is wonderful but at times overwhelming just how much I am responsible for now. It got me to thinking today about how tricky I thought it was to manage daily life before the baby but now that she is here I realize I took for granted just the ability to type two handed before the last two weeks! I am learning slowly how to watch the baby while I make breakfast etc.  This has not always been the easiest learning process but it has definitely been rewarding as I get to know my daughter and better understand what she needs from me.

That being said even before MJ came into the world keeping up with blogging was something I always wanted to do, but found hard to find the time to do. I have worked on lately trying to reduce the amount of posts I do so I can keep up, but in spite of my efforts I always fall a few weeks behind. It is really hard sometimes to find the time and energy to write posts when there are piles of dishes to be done, laundry to fold, bills to pay and a newborn that needs your attention!

I was curious does anyone else struggle with balancing home life, work and blogging the way I do? If so how do you manage to get it all done?


Graphic Novel Reviews: This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

October 15, 2014 Alisa Graphic Novel Reviews 0 Comments


18465566This One Summer

Author: Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

Published: May 6th 2014

Genres: Young Adult, Coming Of Age,

Find this book on Goodreads

Blurb: Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It’s their getaway, their refuge. Rosie’s friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose’s mom and dad won’t stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It’s a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it’s a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

In This One Summer two stellar creators redefine the teen graphic novel. Cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, the team behind Skim, have collaborated on this gorgeous, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful story about a girl on the cusp of her teen age—a story of renewal and revelation.


Things I liked:

  • The art is really beautiful and powerful in this book and really matches the themes of the story.
  • The story is a very honest and at times sad, but very compelling as a read.
  • The characters felt very realistic and their thought processes very true to the time of life these characters are going through.

Things I disliked:

  • Sometimes the use of language was rather rough at times, for me this was jarring but I understand it fit the character/tones/themes of the story.  The characters are not all entirely pleasant in this book, but they are realistic and well drawn out.

Favorite Moment:

I really liked the scenes between Rose and Windy, it was interesting seeing the events through the lens of a younger person, though often they are dealing with very adult subjects and concerns.

What I thought of the art style:



The art is really beautiful and powerful in this graphic novel and I think it is really what makes this book work, sometimes the wordless panels were even more effective and evocative than those with lots of dialogue.

Alisa’s Verdict:

smalliconalisaThis graphic novel was not what I expected based on the cover and blurb. I was expecting a more lighthearted tale of coming of age in a summer setting, what I got instead was at times a very adult tale about two girls who are fascinated by the adult world, but don’t have the information to process it or understand it’s subtext. Rose is really the center piece of the story and she is going through a very hard time, her mother is suffering though Rose doesn’t know why and her parents marriage is tense.  Rose’s feelings and responses to events around her are real and at times painful to read about. However I left the story feeling touched by the struggles of this main character and glad I took the journey with the characters.


Book Review: How To Say Goodbye In Robot by Natalie Standiford

October 13, 2014 Alisa Realistic, Young Adult 4 Comments


0-545-10708-3How To Say Goodbye In Robot

Author: Natalie Standiford

Published:  October 1st 2009 by Scholastic Press

Genres: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction

Find this book on Goodreads

Blurb:  New to town, Beatrice is expecting her new best friend to be one of the girls she meets on the first day. But instead, the alphabet conspires to seat her next to Jonah, aka Ghost Boy, a quiet loner who hasn’t made a new friend since third grade. Something about him, though, gets to Bea, and soon they form an unexpected friendship. It’s not romance, exactly – but it’s definitely love. Still, Bea can’t quite dispel Jonah’s gloom and doom – and as she finds out his family history, she understands why. Can Bea help Jonah? Or is he destined to vanish?


Alisa’s Review:

smalliconalisaWhile I am not the biggest fan of contemporary, realistic fiction, I have been wanting to read How to Say Goodbye in Robot ever since I fell in love with another of Natalie Standiford’s books, The Boy on the Bridge. What I liked most about that book was the way it presented us with challenging characters who are not always entirely likeable. It presented us with a relationship that felt true to life, complex and mysterious.

How to Say Goodbye in Robot is also a book that challenges you. It tells the story of a difficult friendship between Bea and Jonah, the emotionally-traumatized survivor from a horrific car accident.

Bea is an interesting main character – an artsy type who enjoys taking photographs of herself with her mother that recreate moments from classic films. As a result of moving schools frequently, she has struggled to form lasting friendships and that leads to her mother criticizing her, comparing her to a robot that is incapable of connecting to the humans around her.

At her brand new school she has an opportunity to be accepted by the popular kids but is drawn to an outcast, Jonah who they nickname Ghost Boy. One of the things Natalie Standiford does well is that she doesn’t have typical, simple relationships between her protagonists. Their friendship is incredibly rocky and uneven – while I am certain that they care for each other, Jonah is so incapable of forming a positive connection that it often seems one-sided. I wanted the characters to end up happy and I could see why Jonah needs Bea but I couldn’t help thinking she’d be better off forgetting about him at times.

That being said, I could see the positive moments in their friendship. For instance, there’s a lovely sequence of scenes in which they bond over listening to a late night radio show.

Be prepared for a rocky relationship but there is lots to admire here. The characterization feels striking and real. I like that it’s challenging but be aware that it can be a little uncomfortable and that things are destined for an unhappy conclusion…


Discussion: The Newest Addition To Picture Us Reading

October 10, 2014 Alisa Uncategorized 19 Comments




To say it has been a crazy few weeks is an understatement! Regular readers will know that we have been awaiting the birth of our first child. She was originally supposed to be born on September 22nd but that day came and went. When we had a Doctor’s appointment a week later, we realized that due to some complications we were going to have to change our plans to have her delivered with a c-section.

Our daughter, MJ, was born on October 1st at 9pm, weighing 9 pounds and 3 ounces! It was my first time having surgery and I was glad when it was over and I was able to see her and know that she would be okay.

It’s now a little over a week later and I am feeling good and have healed up well from the surgery. MJ is thriving, having been checked over twice by her pediatrician. We are extremely proud of her and excited to share life experiences with her, reading and playing with her.

Posting may be sporadic over the next week or so as we settle her into a proper sleeping rhythm and I get some myself! I am looking forward to catching up on comments and all of the blog posts I’ve missed.

MJ on the day we brought her home from the hospital in her Froggy pajamas.

MJ spends some time with her Daddy.