Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Book #19

Rachel Rising: Fear No Malus by Terry Moore

Rachel and Jet will not stay dead. It's a mystery to the two BFFs, but they suspect it has something to do with a 10-year old serial killer and a witch who wants revenge on Manson, the little town with a wicked past.

This is where all the real stuff begins. We're introduced to more characters, more twists in the plot, more dark reveals, and most importantly, a large and powerful antagonist. The plot becomes even more exciting, and I love the witchcraft angle Moore has taken here.

A number of pages throughout this volume are completely free of dialogue, and Moore lets his artwork tell the story. This is wonderful, and the level of suspense and terror built up by black and white drawings really impressed me.

Looking forward to reading more Rachel Rising, and glad Terry Moore's work is now on my radar!

Book #18

Rachel Rising: The Shadow of Death by Terry Moore

Rachel Beck wakes in a shallow grave and claws her way free as a mysterious woman watches from a bluff. With no memory of the night before, Rachel enlists the help of Aunt Johnny, the town mortician, to find her killer. But when repeated attacks send her to the morgue, Rachel's ability to wake from death again and again prove to be a blessing and a curse, and the eerie town of Manson will never be the same!

This is a great first volume; it sets the mood nicely, and presents the mysterious circumstances to us slowly, meaning we're not entirely confused by the supernatural goings on. It feels very much like a classic horror story, and is paced very well, building suspense and answering questions at the right times, but building more mystery as we go.

I particularly enjoyed Moore's vast range of female characters, and the diversity of these. All are engaging, all have a story and a past, and all are drawn as women, rather than idealisations.

Visually evocative, crisp and detailed, the artwork allows for the plot to really get to you. However, this volume alone is only doing the groundwork for what's to come - I can't wait.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Book #17

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

When Emma Rouault marries Charles Bovary she imagines she will pass into the life of luxury and passion that she reads about in sentimental novels and women's magazines. But Charles is a dull country doctor, and provincial life is very different from the romantic excitement for which she yearns. In her quest to realize her dreams she takes a lover, and begins a devastating spiral into deceit and despair.

This is an important message on being happy with your lot. Emma Bovary lives her life in a state of constantly wanting more in order to be truly happy. Once she gets that something more, she needs something else, and the cycle begins again. She's never content, sinks into a severe depression, and goes on to ruin her life both morally and financially. This was spurred on entirely by her love of sentimental novels - take note, readers!

Oh, Emma. You made me sorry to have left my tiny violin in my desk at work, where I usually need it. But your husband with his silly witticisms, his complete lack of sophistication, his sheer love for you, and his need to run and tell you about his day as soon as he arrived home, really made me feel for you. You ate so well, but not from the best dishes, your clothes were fine and gorgeous, but weren't hand embroidered by blind nuns, and that grass? It was just a lot greener a bit further over, wasn't it? Oh, how I felt for you. Life really is unfair.

Flaubert writes beautifully, and does many exciting things with his prose to emphasise his points. He juxtaposes one of Emma's wild affairs with the town's incredibly provincial farmer's market. His realism is completely vivid and remarkable, and he portrays his characters so well, that his dim view on humanity seeps through perfectly.

Emma's story is from the nineteenth century, but it's amazing how much of it can resonate today. Emma was someone looking for perfection, and not unreasonably so. She was looking for the life of an aristocrat, someone beautiful and in love, someone wealthy and astute. She had been shown, and told, that this life was available, and this life was what she strove to achieve by any means possible. In 2014, we have people who will completely sell themselves out to gain entry to the world of celebrity; people who see airbrushed images of 'perfection' and ruin their body and/or their finances to achieve the body they want; and people who cheat on their partners in an attempt to reach that perfect soulmate, not realising that different people have different qualities, and to reach that 'ideal' relationship takes a lot of work and patience - it's not a lucky dip.

A beautifully written, morbid and dark reminder that life is a journey, and no one likes the destination - be happy with what you have. It's timeless, still speaking to us after 150 years, and still right on the money (no pun intended).

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Book #16

Batman Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank

In a Gotham City where friend and foe are indistinguishable, Bruce Wayne's path toward becoming the Dark Knight is riddled with more obstacles than ever before. Focused on punishing his parents’ true killers, and the corrupt police that allowed them to go free, Bruce Wayne's thirst for vengeance fuels his mad crusade and no one, not even Alfred, can stop him.

This focuses on Bruce Wayne becoming Batman in order to avenge his parents' death, which, this time, is positioned as a political assassination over a botched robbery attempt. Bruce is still learning how to conduct himself, and how to work his crap gadgets. He's shown as a very human Batman, making mistakes, needing help, and getting himself into scrapes. He isn't out to fight crime here, he only wants revenge. This allows the story to soon turn incredibly dark and twisted, more so than I had expected.  

Gotham is scarier here because it's lacking certain things that make it safe in other Batman stories. Gordon's legendary bravery and dedication to crime prevention is completely lacking, the city's superhero is a total amateur who can't keep his balance on the roofs, and the criminals seem to be running the city entirely - with the majority of the police force corrupt, and in the criminals' clutches.

The artwork is gorgeous, intricate, and suitably dark. Frank's take on Gotham, and in particular the characters, was absolutely wonderful. Sometimes the art fused so well with the writing that I had goosebumps.

I loved how Alfred was portrayed here; a built, ex-military man, who served with Thomas Wayne, with a walking stick and a hell of an attitude. There's no nice gentle butler here: Alfred is totally bad ass, becoming Bruce's guardian merely out of a sense of duty, rather than love, and we then see the developed bond in the flash forward. There was very little in the way of character development, however, and I would've liked more of a back story to Alfred's fierce new style.

A fresh re-writing of Batman's origins, and beautifully drawn. The characters had new looks and new motivations, and the story was wonderfully written. Absolutely gorgeous.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Book #15

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

Edinburgh in the 1930s. The Lennox family is having trouble with its youngest daughter. Esme is outspoken, unconventional, and repeatedly embarrasses them in polite society. Something will have to be done. 
Years later, a young woman named Iris Lockhart receives a letter informing her that she has a great-aunt in a psychiatric unit who is about to be released.
Iris has never heard of Esme Lennox and the one person who should know more, her grandmother Kitty, seems unable to answer Iris's questions. What could Esme have done to warrant a lifetime in an institution? And how is it possible for a person to be so completely erased from a family's history?

My favourite thing about this novel is the structure. It's written in multiple voice narrative, which is a favourite of mine, and flits the reader between past and present seamlessly. One of the narrators is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and her accounts are incredibly disjointed and cliffhanger-esque. Just as she's getting to the point, she'll start talking about something completely unrelated, such as a biscuit that's been placed beside her. This results in a perfect balance of reader frustration and irresistibility. Each section provides another strangely shaped piece of the jigsaw we are to complete in 270 pages.

O'Farrell subtly shows us how society would treat a woman who didn't fit into their norms, and how easy it would be to institutionalise such a woman. Although I wasn't able to decide for myself whether Esme was truly mentally ill when she first went into the asylum, I am pretty sure she was by the time she came out. It was amazing to read of the reasons some of the women were put into Cauldstone (a name which annoyed me immeasurably), and although these types of places have now been mostly closed, it can be said that women are being restrained in more subtler ways these days.

The novel's ending felt totally contrived, almost as though O'Farrell had completely run out of ideas for both the plot, and all of the characters, and was entirely fed up of the whole thing. This wild ending was certainly shocking, and a good one, but would've landed better if more questions had been answered first.

I could have loved this novel; I certainly liked it, I couldn't put it down, was desperate to know the ending, and I did see a good few well-written, lyrical parts of the prose that impressed me. It had great potential, but there were a few missing components for me. Events are thrown at the reader in an attempt to shock, or to move the plot onwards, without any real justification or explanation for these events. Why are O'Farrell's characters behaving in this way? There was nothing given to us with any sort of perspective surrounding them.

This is a great quick read, and something to get the reader thinking. It's not a masterpiece, however, and it's disappointing as it has all the ingredients there to become one. A half-cooked loaf that didn't fully rise; I liked it, but wouldn't do it again.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Book #14

Morning Glories: Tests by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma

The Glories are scattered, The Faculty broken, and The Truants on the attack! 

I don't know. This is the fifth collection of Morning Glories I've read, and it's getting more confusing as it progresses. I had thought my confusion was due to the sporadic way in which I was reading the stories, but now I just think it's a mind-fuck of a series, and maybe something I can't quite wrap my tiny little mind around. 

The story is starting to straighten out so much that, in my naive way, I thought this was the final volume. Turns out there's loads still to come, and I'd really love to see where it's going.

This is definitely one to read when you have all of the volumes in front of you; it'd still be difficult to keep up, but a good run at it would probably help.

Book #13

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The warm-hearted saga of the March family and of the four girls: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy - who manage to have fun even though they are very poor and their father is away fighting in the American Civil War. They form a secret society - The Pickwick Club - put on plays, and make friends with the rich, but lonely boy next door, Laurie.

I will never stop loving this book. I love every single character in their own way, and I particularly love the messages the book sends. There is something moralistic, yet peaceful about the novel; we are taught without being preached to, and learn without realising.

Yes, this initially seems like a standard, nineteenth century novel, with women doing their duties, upholding their religion, and planning their inevitable marriage, however a closer look gives us much more than that. We have one sister who takes pride in writing, and manages to sell her stories to a newspaper; we have a close, platonic relationship between that same sister and a young man; another sister falls in love, but dithers over the marriage, and it isn't presented as the be all and end all of everything. None of these were common in the nineteenth century, and the novel often reflects Alcott's feelings on feminism and transcendentalism.

The sisters are shown as flawed, learning, and incredibly human, and that's why I love them so much. Each is perfectly crafted, with Alcott showing both her good and bad qualities, and how these are built upon as the girls grow older and ultimately transform into little women. Every single mistake the sisters make is presented as a life lesson, which will either hit young readers subliminally, or not at all, but which won't escape many adult readers.

Alcott clearly shows the girls struggling with convention and gender roles, and I believe this is something that is still a struggle today. Jo, in particular, takes issue with not having the same opportunities as a man. She does her best to be 'man of the house', taking opportunity to provide and care for the family. She shortens both her hair and her name in an attempt to become more masculine, but ultimately accepts her place in this time - which is a real shame.

Like all Victorian childrens' novels, Little Women definitely comes with its own dose of morality. It's an old-fashioned story, and has been for a long time, but I can't help but think young people today could really take something from it, whether it be to weigh your wealth in happiness and people around you, or that employing yourself in a task is more worthwhile than being idle. A classic for a reason, and possibly a hard-sell to children these days, it'll always be wonderful to me.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Book #12

Joker by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo

The Joker has been mysteriously released from Arkham Asylum, and he's none to happy about what's happened to his Gotham City rackets while he's been "away." What follows is a harrowing night of revenge, murder and manic crime as only the Joker can deliver it, as he brutally takes back his stolen assets from The Penguin, The Riddler, Two-Face, Killer Croc and others. 

Amazing. 

The Joker is released from Arkham for reasons we are never given. This immediately hints at the fragility of the Joker's sanity, and although he seems sober and sane in places, he really flips the lid in others. All the while the unanswered question is broiling in the back of the reader's mind - why the hell did they let him out?

He goes on to visit all of his old comrades; we get to meet Two-Face, the Penguin, Killer Croc, and the Riddler; and it's just wonderful to see them depicted by Lee Bermejo. From Two-Face's burns, the Penguin's moist face, Croc's weird skin condition, and the Riddler's club foot, the reader is allowed a flash of recognition before being hit with the realisation that the Joker owns all of these villains.

This isn't plot driven in the slightest, and more an in-depth look into the Joker's character, He's portrayed from a more human angle than the one we usually see him from, and somehow this makes him all the more terrifying. Whether sobbing into Harley's lap with drugs strewn all over the room (a true slip of the mask), or having a moment of quiet contemplation before launching into another riotous rampage, our perceptions of the Joker are skewed entirely. He is likeable at times, and at others you are forced to look at yourself and wonder why you warmed to him in the first place. Are you warped too? 

The art just blew me away. It was so compelling, and the panels were laid out perfectly to engage the reader and create tension, climax, and dread. The colouring was deep, and pretty dark, which worked amazingly well, creating a real picture of terror to get caught up in.

I'm not sure the Joker's psyche is one that can be penetrated entirely; probably only scratched away at slowly. This is a wonderful glimpse into his mind, however, and a wonderful attempt at allowing us to understand him. The noir atmosphere is absolutely addictive, and the gore was a draw for me too.

Book #11

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One Day, published in 1999, is a best-selling collection of essays by American humorist David Sedaris. The book is separated into two parts. The first part consists of essays about Sedaris’s life before his move to Normandy, France, including his upbringing in suburban Raleigh, North Carolina, his time working odd jobs in New York City, and a visit to New York from a childhood friend and her bumpkinish girlfriend. The second section, "Deux", tells of Sedaris’s move to Normandy with his partner Hugh, often drawing humor from his efforts to live in France without speaking the French language and his frustrated attempts to learn it.

I didn't like this book. I should have liked this book; thousands of others have (!) and I'm just the type of cynic who should enjoy these sort of essays: humiliating revivals of times where Sedaris should have done something, should have taken action like a grown man, but didn't. 

These little anecdotes were utterly pointless. Nothing really happened, I didn't laugh (I think I was supposed to), I clicked on immediately that the stories were exaggerations (i.e. complete fiction), and just as quickly had Sedaris pigeon-holed as mean, bitchy, and kind of a dick.

I can't waste any more time telling you how dull this whole thing was, so, in summary: reality television on paper. Think of the worst you've ever seen spread across 270 pages.