Sunday, 21 December 2014

Book #55

Y the Last Man: Girl on Girl by Brian K Vaughn & Pia Guerra

After two years spent warily crossing the U.S., Yorick Brown and his escorts, agent 355 and biochemist Alison Mann, have gone to sea. Mann has determined that the key to understanding what kept Yorick from dying when all the other men did lies within the body of Yorick's pet monkey, Ampersand, who has been abducted by a Japanese mercenary. 

Well, I tried. I think six volumes of this is plenty, so I won't be continuing Yorick's adventure with him. With another four volumes to go,  I don't think I can sacrifice precious reading time.

This time around, we're treated to adventure on the high seas, as Yorick and friends board a boat loaded with heroin. As expected, they run into a load of violence (this time with swords) and narrowly escape death once again, with Yorick getting tangled up with another woman. Vaughn also seemed to run out of shock factor plot twists (because let's face it, he's used everything in his arsenal more than four times) and to combat this, writes Mann and 355 into bed together. Hence the frat boy, homophobic, and frankly misogynistic volume title.

I must admit I was glad to see an older woman in this volume as every single woman here looks the same; epically proportioned and gorgeous. 

And we're still no further forward with the plot. I'm done. I'm fed up reading about characters in sticky situations, only to see them get out of the mess seconds later. I already have Blyton books I can read; give me something I don't expect. I've ranted enough about this series, so it's time to leave it behind with the other insipid stories I've read in my time. Goodbye, Yorick; I wouldn't come near you again if you were the last man on earth.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Book #54

Y the Last Man: Ring of Truth by Brian K Vaughn & Pia Guerra

Yorick Brown, the last man on Earth, finally makes it to San Francisco where his unbalanced sister, Hero, finds him seemingly succumbing to the male-killing plague after losing his still-unused engagement ring to the burqa-clad agents of the Setauket Ring. But is the ring really the key to his survival? And what does it have to do with the mysterious Amulet of Helene, which the Setauket leader is determined to take from Agent 355 by any means necessary. 

Much more of the same. People are still trying to kill them, the number of ‘secret societies’ following the trio is growing, and I’m losing track of everyone’s motives. There’s a great deal of violence, and I don’t care who gets hurt as long as it’s not Ampersand, because he’s a cute little monkey.

We marginally find out why Yorick and Ampersand survived the plague. Dr Mann’s explanation of this, to the non-scientific mind, is incredibly confusing and mediocre. And although she positioned this as a guess, if that really is the reason then I’m not sure there’s much incentive to read on. 

Yorick spends the majority of this volume advising other characters of his extreme uselessness. Although I was glad he’d noticed, the extent of his self-deprecating outburst was just a bit much. 

When the trio arrive in San Francisco, they find it far less chaotic than where they’ve come from. Things are more peaceful and organised than places we’ve previously seen, however rather than look into this further, and show us some women who have adapted well to change, and how they managed this, Vaughn chooses to introduce us to more crazy, violent ladies who are looking to kill Yorick. Rather than show us three billion women in a world without men, we focus on one drippy pain in the arse who, let’s face it, can’t reinstate the patriarchy on his own anyway.

I’m still dragging my heels with this. One more volume and then I’m going to have to cut my losses and give up.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Book #53

Y the Last Man: Safeword by Brian K Vaughn and Pia Guerra

In the care of a fellow Culper Ring member, Yorick Brown is forced to confront his tremendous feelings of survivor guilt that lead him to constantly put his life in danger. Once on the road again, the group runs up against a literal roadblock in Arizona, where the female remains of the Sons of Arizona militia have cut the interstate to keep out any vestiges of the U.S. government.

In my review of the previous installment, I lamented that I was only continuing with this series because I had a desire to see what happened. and that I really wanted to love it. Unfortunately, both seeing this through to the end and Yorick's fate are not high on my priority list after this volume.

This one wasn't even as strong as the previous three volumes, with lots of recurring events. The trio run into trouble, get involved in violence, narrowly escape, meet some woman who wants to fuck the last man on earth, etc. Very static. I'm bored of the plot, bored of the characters, and apparently the phrase "not if you were the last man on earth" means nothing to Vaughn's 'feminist' characters. 

As an apparent feminist comic, Vaughn continues to fail, portraying the majority of women as feminazis, and having them comment that another must be PMSing because she had a shouty moment. No other plausible explanation for feminine anger, so it must be her period.

Yorick still has no personality, and it transpires here that he has some sort of survivor guilt which is why he keeps jumping in front of gun-toting hordes, so why anyone would want to fuck him is beyond me.

I also have absolutely no concept of how much time has passed with each volume. One character made a comment that they'd been trying to get to California for eighteen months. Oh, okay.

Persevering with another two volumes as a very trusted friend has let me borrow them, but I'm starting to think this really isn't my thing. I've just ended this one on the "Oh shit, Hero's turned up" cliffhanger, which has been used for what feels like the fourth time.

Book #52

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Impish, daring young Tom Sawyer is the bane of the old, the hero of the young. There were some in his dusty old Missippi town who believed he would be President, if he escaped a hanging. For wherever there is mischief or adventure, Tom is at the heart of it. During one hot summer, Tom witnesses a murder, runs away to be a pirate, attends his own funeral, rescues an innocent man from the gallows, searches for treasure in a haunted house, foils a devilish plot and discovers a box of gold. But can he escape his nemesis, the villainous Injun Joe?

I never ever read this book as a child; this was my first time - berate me as you see fit. Despite this oversight, the book is still relevant to me as an adult in 2014, as it would've been had I grown up in the nineteenth century. The pains we go through growing up may have warped into something entirely different (think Becky liking all of Alfred's pictures on Instagram, rather than looking at a picture book with them for all the school to see) but the base emotions are still there, and in a way, still raw.

Tom is a likable protagonist; he's an olden day cheeky chappie, a true comic, constantly getting into mischief and driving his family mental. Tom is quite transparent, however, coming across as mostly selfish, attention seeking, and covetous of leadership positions. I didn't grudge him this; I liked him a lot, and we did see his selfish acts mutate into acts of kindness and chivalry. Tom's flaws, however were a true contrast to my favourite character, Huckleberry Finn. Huck is a gorgeous character, living in severe poverty but appreciative of the freedom it gives him. He takes orders from Tom without questioning him because he's an outcast to the adults of the town, and glad of the company. Being a practical individual, with a heap of common sense, Huck complements Tom's dreamy fantasy worlds perfectly. He's a beautiful character, who I've truly fallen in love with. We didn't see as much of him as I'd have liked, and I'm really excited about reading Twain's novel about him. 

I absolutely loved the small, sleepy town of St Petersburg. It reads like such a relaxing lifestyle, and Twain's satire of their customs and beliefs is as funny as it is enlightening. Add his colloquialisms into a mix, and you're in the blame South. At this time, slave ownership was common, and legal, but the novel doesn't deal with many racial issues, instead only mentioning them subtly. Injun Joe's place in the town was lower than others' due to his mixed race, and the 'n' word does crop up, but Twain doesn't allude to race any more than this. 

An absolutely gorgeous picture of childhood in the 1870s, and based on Twain's own, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a true American classic - one I wish I had read sooner.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Book #51

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature's hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator.

Classic horrors have never really been my thing. Having now read Frankenstein for the first time (!) I think more classic horrors will be in the pipeline for me. I wasn't expecting this work to be so beautiful, so breathtaking, and so totally contrasting to my previous perceptions and assumptions surrounding the story. Hollywood has a lot to answer for.

As soon as Frankenstein brings his monster to life, he is immediately repulsed at the sight of him, and by what he's done. The monster is orphaned, and left to make sense of the world on his own. He seeks love and friendship, but finds only hatred. Every single human who comes across the monster rejects him, and his own creator was too disgusted to look at him, Shelley made it so easy to understand his woes, his frustrations, and most of all, his need for companionship. The monster must be one of the greatest literary outcasts ever written - I believe every misunderstood character since will have something in common with him. 

Shelley's writing is incredibly impressive when we consider the character of Frankenstein. At the beginning of the novel, he is easy to respect. He has huge dreams of unlocking the secrets of science, and it seems no one will stand in his way to do so. After the birth of the monster, he becomes an abhorrent character; we see him slowly lose both his mind and his humanity as he comes to terms with the consequences of his actions. His lack of compassion is disgusting, and although I should have hated him, Shelley wouldn't let me. Her writing totally conveyed his position, his reasons for his behaviour, and his deep regrets. So although Frankenstein is the true monster, we are led to sympathise with his plight as he becomes more isolated, and more akin to his creation.

Let's debunk some Hollywood myths. Firstly, the monster teaches himself to read, write, and speak. And not in a fragmented, learning a foreign language way. He is potentially the most articulate character in the novel, and most definitely more eloquent than you or I. Hollywood either shows him as entirely mute, or only capable of a series of grunts. This lack of human communication will straight away convey the sense of the monster being a different species, and our trust in him will sink. Shelley, however, portrays him as entirely human, except in appearance. We sympathise with him, he can express his feelings and thoughts, and in doing so allows us to understand that his rejection is what leads to his murderous capabilities. Without launching into a nature vs. nurture debate, I'm sure things could've ended up just lovely if the monster had been loved by his creator.

Myth two! There is no strike of lightning which brings the monster to life. It wasn't even a dark and stormy night. Electricity is not the secret to bringing sewn together limbs into being. Shelley, very tastefully, never reveals the key to life Frankenstein discovered. This made the whole thing so much more majestic, as readers would have scoffed at anything else. The film version gives us the whole thunder, lightning, evil laugh, and scary music. I know what I'd prefer.

Thirdly - he's not green, he doesn't have bolts in his neck, and he doesn't live in a big castle. I'm amazed at just how much a story (not just a story - a masterpiece) can be distorted by media.

This isn't a horror that will terrify you, or have you up all night expecting an amalgamation of human limbs to knock on your window. The horror here is the danger of playing God, the human instinct to judge upon sight, and most of all, the horror of being alone. I cannot recommend this novel enough, it's so beautifully human, provocative and a true treasure.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Book #50

The Unwritten: Inside Man by Mike Carey & Peter Gross

In this volume, Tom arrives at Donostia prison in Southern France and falls into the orbit of another story: The Song of Roland. Unfortunately for Tom, it's a story that ends with a massacre. .Tom discovers the true meaning of "out of the frying pan" after his escape from Donostia jail takes him to Stuttgart in 1940, a ghost city inhabited by the master liar of the Third Reich, Josef Goebbels, and a tortured soul who's crying out for rescue - or death...

I love that this is all about the power of storytelling over reality; stories shape the world. I liked the artwork; in particular the mixed way of construing the media in different formats to enable the story to be told. Although the Tommy Taylor series is hugely akin to Harry Potter, this allows the reader to understand the obsession surrounding Tom and his father's work. Carey seems to have a vein of satire running through his commentary on the public's obsession with these novels, and although I am absolutely a part of the Harry Potter fan world, I totally get it.

Tom is a strong character, but I haven't warmed to him yet. He reminds me of many stubborn, arsehole men I have met in my life; those who will listen to anything but reason, and believe they know best. Tom knows nothing, and won't let anyone fix this for him. Thankfully, he begins to come to his senses in this volume, just not enough to make me like him.

The last issue of the volume focuses on Mr Bun, a foul mouthed rabbit living with other (much more polite) animals in a Beatrix Potter-like forest. Mr Bun's sole intention is to kill his creator, presumably the author, and he mentions Wilson Taylor's name a few times, implying that he has been put there by the author. This fascinated me, and I hoped it was to foreshadow something we are yet to find out about. Imagine being able to write your worst enemies into a novel, and for that novel to become real. Imagine turning the most cretinous person you know into a fluffy bunny, and sending them into the Hundred Acre Wood. Absolutely wonderful.

I have no idea where this is going, but  I want to find out.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Book #49

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey & Peter Gross

Tommy Taylor is the main character in a series of fantasy novels that have become a cultural phenomenon. Fans gather on websites and at conventions to celebrate his magical stories and hope that his missing creator, Wilson Taylor, will someday resurface to write one last adventure. But there's one dangling plot thread: the real Tom Taylor, the son Wilson abandoned. The inspiration for the magical boy wizard, Tom is now worshipped worldwide as a literary legend made flesh. As Tom's life begins to take on eerie and deadly parallels with Tommy's, he's drawn into a strange literary underworld where the power of storytelling is as strong as any spell.

The premise of this is exciting, and it's shaping up to be a really interesting read for me. Tommy Taylor seems to have leapt from imagination into reality, but is still denying this for the time being. The theme here is that the stories we tell shape our reality, and that they are a lot more powerful than we could ever imagine. Perfect.

I really liked the snippets of the Tommy Taylor novels we got to experience here; they had funny little hints to JK Rowling within them, along with some smaller references to other fantasy novels. 

Another highlight  for me was Tom's father teaching him all he knew on literary geography - we saw or spoke of Room 101, the Reichenbach falls, Pianosa, and Villa Diadato. The idea that this geography of stories comes into play much more later in the series intrigues me massively. The most intriguing part of all is, that if Tommy's father created him in Villa Diadato, which also housed Shelley and Milton, then both Lucifer and Frankenstein are his uncles, or siblings. 

The final issue in the volume focused on Rudyard Kipling, his life, and the fact he had been approached by the same secret society as Tommy's father. Their motives are unclear at the moment, however they manipulate writers into creating stories which have an effect on reality.

Despite being a fantasy novel, some of the scenes seemed very real. Carey and Gross manage to capture the mindset of the 'superfan'; either glorifying or castigating Tom as they saw him either as a fraud, or the messiah. I also really enjoyed the depiction of a literary convention at the beginning of the novel; it's strange to see something so familiar jump out at you like that.

Although not without its faults, which were too minor to mention, this is a promising first volume, The literary references are delicious to me, and the idea of fiction impacting reality makes me want to move on to the next volume immediately. Which is exactly what I'll do.


Book #48

Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne

Eight-year-old Noah's problems seem easier to deal with if he doesn't think about them. So he runs away, taking an untrodden path through the forest.
Before long, he comes across a shop. But this is no ordinary shop: it's a toyshop, full of the most amazing toys, and brimming with the most wonderful magic. And here Noah meets a very unusual toymaker. The toymaker has a story to tell, and it's a story of adventure and wonder and broken promises. He takes Noah on a journey. A journey that will change his life.

I love reading children's fiction. It's usually so creative, imaginative, and fantastic, with excellent morals and teachings. I like exploring kid's books for myself, but also imagining what a younger mind could take away from them. Although I don't do it often, I quite like to delve into a little fairy tale such as this one to keep me in touch with the better, more magical world of children's fiction.

This story is incredibly random. So random, in fact, I was surprised when the finale turned out to be something other than 'and then he woke up'. There wasn't any explanation as to why, when Noah ventured only a little away from home, he ran into talking animals, trees who cried when you pick their apples, or furniture with personalities. I'm not stupid - I need to hear why things are like this; kids are exactly the same. 

Although it isn't a sad story, Noah's reasoning for running away from home really tugs at the heartstrings once we work out the reasons why. At the beginning of the novel he refuses to even think about it, meaning the reader is kept entirely in the dark, however he can't keep his thoughts hidden for long. The story comes with a good message about running away from our problems, and regrets that could come from doing this. Not only this, but Boyne also lightly touches on bullying, aging, being careful what you wish for, and the importance of family. This seems like a lot for a kid's novel, but Boyne deals with each message sensitively, almost subliminally conditioning the mind of the reader.

I can't say I liked this book, and I can't say I didn't like it. It would work best read aloud to children, with the reader providing extra commentary to make it exciting. I felt that the bizarre in the novel was all that was keeping my attention - although the message was deep, there was no real plot to hook a reader.

A real shame. I had exactly the same love-hate relationship with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and now I'm not so impressed by this one; it seems my John Boyne explorations are over.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Book #47

Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières

Captain Corelli's Mandolin is set in the early days of the second world war, before Benito Mussolini invaded Greece. Dr Iannis practices medicine on the island of Cephalonia, accompanied by his daughter, Pelagia, to whom he imparts much of his healing art. Even when the Italians do invade, life isn't so bad--at first anyway. The officer in command of the Italian garrison is the cultured Captain Antonio Corelli, who responds to a Nazi greeting of "Heil Hitler" with his own "Heil Puccini", and whose most precious possession is his mandolin. It isn't long before Corelli and Pelagia are involved in a heated affair--despite her engagement to a young fisherman, Mandras, who has gone off to join Greek partisans. Love is complicated enough in wartime, even when the lovers are on the same side. And for Corelli and Pelagia, it becomes increasingly difficult to negotiate the minefield of allegiances, both personal and political, as all around them atrocities mount, former friends become enemies and the ugliness of war infects everyone it touches.

This is a book of two halves; two halves for which I have different feelings for entirely. The first half seeps us in history, throws us into a war, introduces us to some heartwarming characters, and maps us out a love story that grips hold of our hearts. The end of the first half gives us an ending which, although not the happy ending one might hope for, is a 'could've been worse' ending typical of wartime. We then drag ourselves through the second half of the tale, which has a niggling feeling of being an afterthought, or a word count enhancer. The change in the writing style is stark, our beloved characters turn irksome, and it becomes more and more difficult to read in the same way. Then we find the ending to be pretty pathetic, and feel hard done by. 

I loved the setting; it was so ridiculously European. Every mention of the beautiful island, the glorious weather, their goats and terracotta pots had me longing to get away from the murky climate I'm in at the moment. The characters lived an enviable, spartan lifestyle, in a close-knit community. Bernières described wonderfully neighbourly acts of kindness, cultural events and oddities, and small town gossip. Until the Italians arrived, it seemed an incredible place to live.

The book initially takes some getting used to, with Bernières changing scene or narrator every chapter or so. It's jarring, but begins to make sense the longer you persevere, with the stories interlinking beautifully together, and our characters building up. Until, of course, the second half.

I'm absolutely not the kind of girl who appreciates a love story. I like a story where things happen other than a relationship, and I'm quite partial to a relationship stemming from some kind of mutual circumstance. I enjoyed reading about the war and its consequences, but once the war was over all that was left to resolve was the lost love. It's disappointing when you can predict the ending of a story just because you've read so many stories in the past. A book shouldn't be like that; it's an incredible waste.

A number of people have told me this is their favourite book. Many have said it's wonderful. I would like you all to tell me why. I truly feel if the book had ended where I believe it should have ended, this would be a much bigger masterpiece, but based on the opinions of others, I expected a lot more. When I will I learn?

Monday, 20 October 2014

Book #46

We Need to Talk Kevin Bridges

Aged just 17, Kevin Bridges walked on stage for the first time in a Glasgow comedy club and brought the house down. He only had a five-minute set but in that short time he discovered that he really could earn a living from making people laugh. Kevin began life as a shy, nerve-ridden school-boy, whose weekly highlights included a cake-bombing attack by the local youths. Reaching his teens, he followed his true calling as the class clown, and was soon after arrested for kidnapping Hugh Grant from his local cinema on a quiet Saturday night. This was a guy going somewhere - off the rails seeming most likely.

I was lucky enough to attend the book signing in Glasgow for this brand new autobiography. As you're all no doubt well aware of by now, I'm not a non-fiction girl by any stretch. Autobiographies are to me what Kindles are to Ray Bradbury, however Kevin Bridges is our national treasure and I was excited to read this one. 

It would be easy to assume, as I did, that this would be a story packed full of laughs, pranks, and high-quality humour, however Bridges takes a far more serious line with his narrative. Although the jokes are there, along with some pretty hilarious anecdotes that made me laugh pretty loudly on a quiet train, we learn about what the 'wee dick' was like before he turns into the 'big dick'.

Bridges admits early on in the book that he was a horribly anxious and self-aware child; one who was paranoid about everything, but in particular, what others thought of him. We're then taken with him on his journey of overcoming these fears and pushing himself to achieve his dreams.

The book takes us up to the first gig at the SECC in 2010, and stops there. The first half of the story focuses on his school days, his life as the class clown, and subsequently trying to make a living in the real world, hating every menial retail job he did. The second half speaks to us of his rise to stardom, making it in Glasgow, then making it across the UK, finally becoming the superstar he is now. Bridges really conveyed how this wasn't all glitter and giggles; in parts he makes trying to make it on the comedy circuit sound absolutely horrific. Talking to a crowd of five, all of whom were ignoring you, or sleeping in your own pish would definitely put me off it, but his work ethic really shone through as he did gigs for free just so he could polish up his set for next time.

I felt quite nostalgic in the earlier stages of the book, being the same age as Bridges and growing up in a similar area. I particularly loved how supportive his family came across to be, the obvious love they had in the house, and how grateful and humble Bridges sounded throughout the whole thing. It's clear he feels he wouldn't be in the position he is today without the support of his family, and I think that says a lot about the person he is, and the people he has in his life.

Bridges appeal to the masses is his incredibly relatability, and this comes across well in these pages, along with the feeling that he's just a genuinely nice guy. A gorgeous story of an ascent into dreamlike aspirations, this is a must for any fan of oor Kev.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Book #45

The Sandman: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

The third book of the Sandman collection is a series of four short comic book stories. In each of these otherwise unrelated stories, Morpheus serves only as a minor character. Here we meet the mother of Morpheus's son, find out what cats dream about, and discover the true origin behind Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream.

Of the three so far, I've enjoyed this one least. As the blurb above states, Dream appears very briefly in each of the stories, and in the final one doesn't appear at all. Although there's no denying they were all well-imagined, I didn't connect with any of the stories as much as I did with the ones in previous volumes. 

I feel here Gaiman had got his introductions out of the way, and had room to stretch his legs a bit. Don't get me wrong, the stories were typically horrifying and twisted; they just didn't grip me as tightly as they should have. And don't get me started on that one about the cats. 

In all, I was severely unimpressed with this volume. I really enjoyed what was going on in The Doll's House, but felt this was completely cut off by these unrelated narratives. I'm sure this will be an incredibly unpopular opinion, and you may cry that I just didn't get it. Maybe I didn't, but I remain hopeful that volume three will be a strong bridge between two and four.

Book #44

The Sandman: The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman

After a decades-long imprisonment, the Sandman has returned to find that a few dreams and nightmares have escaped to reality. Looking to recapture his lost possessions, Morpheus ventures to the human plane only to learn that a woman named Rose Walker has inadvertently become a dream vortex and threatens to rip apart his world. Now as Morpheus takes on the last escaped nightmare at a serial killers convention, the Lord of Dreams must mercilessly murder Rose or risk the destruction of his entire kingdom.

In volume two, the series becomes more impactful in its confidence and meaning. We begin with ancient tale of Dream falling in love with a mortal - the stuff of Greek legend - and witness the destruction this reaps. This displayed clearly just how Endless Dream and his family really are, ruling since forgotten times. Most of all, Dream's weakness for mortals is displayed here, and read like a hint of things to come. The volume follows a similar path to its predecessor - where in volume one, Dream had to locate his totems which were stolen from him, in this volume he returns to his kingdom to find some of his dreams and nightmares have escaped, and he sets out to locate them.

Gaiman's characterisation in this volume is much more rich than in the previous one. The vortex, Rose, moves into the 'doll's house' with a host of strange characters, and Gaiman uses their dreamscapes to explain their past and present to us. We visit a serial killer convention, and the stories of these characters are incredible, with Gaiman's brilliance seeping out of each of them. We are introduced to a gentleman in a pub who is rejecting death completely and claiming it's for the weaker man. Dream speaks to him, and offers to meet him in the same pub in one hundred years' time. We travel through time with both of them, and watch them both develop as they meet in the same spot every hundred years. Absolutely glorious.

I'm still absorbed in the idea that Dream has six brothers and sisters, and I'm excited to meet them all. We had a brief introduction to Desire and Despair in this installment, and they both seemed deliciously abhorrent.

There were no allusions to DC characters in this one, Justice League or otherwise, and I must admit I preferred it this way.

A wonderful read, with the twisted darkness of Gaiman still very much shining through. He takes a mythical  structure and moulds it into his own fantastic realm. On to volume three.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Book #43

The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

In 1916, Dream is captured and encased in a glass globe in a failed attempt by an Edwardian magician to bind Death and attain immortality. Dream bides his time for decades until he finally escapes. We then join Dream on his quest to recover his totems of power, which were dispersed following his capture: a pouch of sand, a helm and a ruby. 

The beginning of Dream's story is utterly compelling. Here we have a mysterious enigma, the lord of imagination, captured and contained for decades by a power-hungry magician. We see the world struggle in sleep, unable to hope or dream as usual. Upon his escape, we see the extent of his power whilst he tracks down his three essential amulets, but are reminded he is still weak without them. Gaiman characterises Dream as a member of the family of the Endless, and lets us meet his sister, Death, in the final issue, after alluding to the others throughout volume one. Dream reminds Death he was captured by accident, and the trap had been set for her.

The art is incredible, with  heavy emphasis on the horror theme. The colours are quite garish, which adds to the impact of the gory imagery. I felt as though I was going to be sick over a few of the more macabre pages.

I was really surprised to see some familiar characters and monuments from the DC universe. We meet the Scarecrow and Doctor Destiny in Arkham Asylum, and John Constantine appears for a brief spell to help Dream locate one of totems. This being my first read of Sandman, it felt odd that this world wasn't self-contained, that it shared a universe with Batman. Dream's world and story seems far more mystical and supernatural than this. It jangled me.

I've heard (from friends and also by Gaiman's own admission) that volume one isn't the strongest installment in the series. I enjoyed it, but came away with an unerring feeling of confusion. It's clear Dream has a long road ahead of him, so I look forward to volume two.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Book #42

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Tom Ripley is chosen by the wealthy Herbert Greenleaf to retrieve Greenleaf's son, Dickie, from his overlong sojourn in Italy. Dickie, it seems, is held captive both by the Mediterranean climate and the attractions of his female companion, but Mr. Greenleaf needs him back in New York to help with the family business. With an allowance and a new purpose, Tom leaves behind his dismal city apartment to begin his career as a return escort. But Tom, too, is captivated by Italy. He is also taken with the life and looks of Dickie Greenleaf. He insinuates himself into Dickie's world and soon finds that his passion for a lifestyle of wealth and sophistication transcends all moral compunction. Tom will become Dickie Greenleaf--at all costs.

This novel completely reeled me in. Having never seen the film, I had no idea what to expect, however I found that this story isn't something that anyone could predict. It focuses immeasurably on the obsessions of Tom Ripley, and how they manipulate and mould his character in the most curious and disturbing of ways.

Tom Ripley is a very uncomfortable character, who seems to hate being Tom Ripley. He surrounds himself in so much self-loathing that he'd rather live a lie than live his own existence. He feels entitled to a life filled with luxuries and the respect of other well to-do folks, but doesn't want to work for this. These preferences are detrimental to most of the other characters in the novel - one more than others. Ripley presents himself well, but the contrast of this squeaky clean exterior to his gloomy inner monologues is very very concerning.

Highsmith leads us to believe Ripley is homosexual from the way he behaves around his new friend Dickie. He's eager to be with him at all times, to make him laugh, impress him, and to call him a friend. He's also entirely disgusted with Dickie's lady friend, Marge, and socially manipulates both of them, as best he can, into spending less time together. These actions clearly reveal Ripley's vicious envy. When he's confronted by Dickie about being "queer", he denies this profusely and becomes terribly offended. All of this combined with other small details of Ripley's character, such as his love for fine things and material possessions, make for an interesting study of his character. He's unable to love who he wants as he refuses to admit his sexuality, and he's unable to have the finer things in life as he's poor. Has all this repression contributed to his desire to shed his skin and become someone who can do all of the above?

The story's setting really appealed to me, and pushed the plot along in unique ways. Highsmith describes the Italian views, culture, and language in such a beautiful way that it's not difficult to understand why Ripley wanted to take on this peaceful and exotic lifestyle, whether he's chasing luxury or not.

We ultimately see Ripley committing murder and identity fraud. For a thriller, there was a disappointingly low level of suspense involved. The novel felt to me much more like an exploration of Ripley's character, than a classic crime novel. His premeditation and ability to justify his wrongdoings to himself simply by shedding a stolen identity, was incredibly precise, and at the same time horrifying. The efforts he went to in order to delude the Italian police were fascinating, and the pride he felt when he managed to do so definitely rubbed off, and I felt myself rooting for this maniac. The finale was definitely an anti-climax for me. I just wanted something monumental to happen to round everything up, but I was disappointed.

It's definitely a worthwhile read, purely for the chance to analyse Ripley's character.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Book #41

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Harry has been burdened with a dark, dangerous and seemingly impossible task: that of locating and destroying Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes. Never has Harry felt so alone, or faced a future so full of shadows. But Harry must somehow find within himself the strength to complete the task he has been given. He must leave the warmth, safety and companionship of The Burrow and follow without fear or hesitation the inexorable path laid out for him.

I can't even begin to describe how much my opinion of this book has changes with every read. Although I can't pretend it's my favourite of the seven, it holds a lot more sway for me each time. 

Many of the elements which I had distaste for on my previous read throughs have been redeemed in my eyes. I see the reason behind these now, the symbolism, and the meaning. For example, I didn't like Rowling's stories of Dumbledore's past, how she told of him dabbling in lowly, and ignoble acts. But, why not? Our heroes can't all be shiny, golden idols. I think Rowling is trying to make a point of the fact that Dumbledore made mistakes, he was imperfect, but what a man!

When the book came out in 2007, I was almost upon my 20th birthday (which is, incidentally, on the 31st of July, the same as Harry's, and JK's). I tried my best to be immovable, invincible, and impassive. I was of the opinion that Harry's death should have been inevitable. Rowling, however, felt the need to give Harry a loophole; a chance. And Harry deserved this, because good people deserve good things. This is what I've come to realise.

So, my opinion has changed. Yes, I am a massive fangirl, but these books mean so much more to me than light entertainment. This series has taught me, over a fourteen year span, the merits of friendship, bravery, honesty, and love. This will all sound horribly cheesy and unlike me, but there are only a bare minimum of you who I will expect to understand. No saga has made such an impression on me as this one. A different burst of emotion is experienced on every page. It is nothing less than wonderful, and I'd like to thank J.K. Rowling for giving me something that can be cherished as much as this can.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Book #40

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

'In a brief statement on Friday night, Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge confirmed that He Who Must Not Be Named has returned to this country and is once more active. "It is with great regret that I must confirm that the wizard styling himself Lord - well, you know who I mean - is alive and among us again," said Fudge.'

I often wonder whether this installment is my favourite, rather than Goblet of Fire. I have never made up my mind. They are both two very different novels, but I think this one has climbed to the #1 spot this time.

It's just wonderful; anguish, heartache, adventure, mystery, love, family,BETRAYAL. I could go on and on. 

The best thing about this novel is the insight we are given into Voldemort's past life. It is incredible to learn about him as a young boy, and how he became the most powerful Dark wizard of all. I loved learning of what made him tick, what sort of things he was attached to, how he used people, and how he used his power. And we saw all of this through the Pensieve. I have such a high opinion of this plot device; I could talk about its merits forever. I have never come across something so effective in conveying past events - it allows us to witness events first hand rather than through the jumbled words of someone else, and it allows us to witness them more than once if need be. I love it.

Of course the heartbreak comes in the final few chapters when we lose Professor Albus Dumbledore, the heart and soul of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It is an unbelievably emotional moment; a great loss. I believe the lament of the phoenix spoke for everyone at this point.

The novel ends and opens a wonderful, tantalising path for the final novel to go down, and although it doesn't end with a cliffhanger as such, it makes you desperate to read more, to make sure everyone will be okay, but with a dreadful feeling in your stomach because you know what's coming.

Time for Book 7.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Book #39

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter is due to start his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizadry. He is desperate to get back to school and find out why his friends Ron and Hermione have been so secretive all summer. However, what Harry is about to discover in his new year at Hogwarts will turn his whole world upside down. But before he even gets to school, Harry has an unexpected and frightening encounter with two Dementors, has to face a court hearing at the Ministry of Magic and has been escorted on a night-time broomstick ride to the secret headquarters of a mysterious group called 'The Order of the Phoenix'. And that is just the start.

I always hope my feelings for Order of the Phoenix will change with a re-read. It is my least favourite of the seven, and I can never quite put my finger on a specific reason as to why this might be. I have a few theories, however.

The suspense of the first four novels isn't as apparent here. There is not so much incentive to read on, the mysteries involved aren't as tantalising, and there isn't as many new spells, objects or people to meet and discover as in the previous installments. These small nuances are quite important to me.

Rowling's character development is quite bland. We don't learn a great deal about her characters which we didn't already know, and only the slightest of things seem to develop, such as the way Ron and Hermione act around each other. These things can only be noticed if you are already aware of what happens later in the saga, however.

Harry is absolutely deplorable throughout the entire novel. I often wonder if Order of the Phoenix is my least favourite installment due to my intense dislike for his attitude in it. Rowling is trying to bring across his teenage angst and temperament, but he just comes across as completely abhorrent. I do not deny that being the Chosen One must be a bit on the stressful side, but all he did was piss and moan for 700-odd pages. He is nothing but rude and disrespectful to Ron and Hermione, who have with nothing but the best intentions. I felt so sorry for them. Not only this, but Harry's attitude towards Dumbledore in the penultimate chapter was nothing but foul. He is, quite simply, a horrible person in this novel.

I also have a great deal to say about the death of Sirius, however I've decided not to say a thing this time around.

It's an enjoyable book, just not as much as the others. And at 700 or so pages, it's full of inconsequential nonsense which is quite entertaining, but which is completely irrelevant and could probably have been left out entirely.

At least I know Half-Blood Prince will remedy all of this.

Book #38

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Once returned to Hogwarts after his summer holiday with the dreadful Dursleys and an extraordinary outing to the Quidditch World Cup, the 14-year-old Harry and his fellow pupils are enraptured by the promise of the Triwizard Tournament: an ancient, ritualistic tournament that brings Hogwarts together with two other schools of wizardry--Durmstrang and Beauxbatons--in heated competition. But when Harry's name is pulled from the Goblet of Fire, and he is chosen to champion Hogwarts in the tournament, the trouble really begins.

My favourite of the seven!

The plot thickens! This is quite a hefty tome - 637 pages to be exact - and I think this is testament to how complex the plot is becoming. Rowling is aware her readers are growing up, so she weaves layers and layers of plot into this novel to make it as intricate and exciting as she possibly can. I think the entire plot in this installment is wonderful.

The Triwizard tournament is my main reason for loving this one. I loved meeting wizards from other countries and learning of their cultures, and different ways of life. There were different spells, objects, creatures and places to learn about during the tournament. We are even allowed a peek into the Prefects' bathroom!

Rowling's character development is lovely. I really love seeing Harry, Ron and Hermione grow up. In this installment, Rowling gives them all exactly the same teenage stresses that we all go through, and it's refreshing to see. I particularly enjoy Harry's "Wangoballwime?" invitation to Cho.

Barty Crouch Jr. is a character who has always intrigued me. I hate him so much that I almost love him in an odd way. The chapterVeritaserum in which he tells his story is one of my favourites in the book. It's just so fascinating; the things he did were deplorable. I find it a shame that the kiss was performed on him - he could've done some wonderfully awful things later on in the saga.

I love reading the series back to back. But, as always, I never want to begin reading Order of the Phoenix because it's almost like the beginning of the end. Here I go!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Book #37

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

For twelve long years, the dread fortress of Azkaban held an infamous prisoner named Sirius Black. Convicted of killing thirteen people with a single curse, he was said to be the heir apparent to the Dark Lord, Voldemort. Now he has escaped, leaving only two clues as to where he might be headed: Harry Potter's defeat of You-Know-Who was Black's downfall as well. And the Azkban guards heard Black muttering in his sleep, "He's at Hogwarts...he's at Hogwarts." Harry Potter isn't safe, not even within the walls of his magical school, surrounded by his friends. Because on top of it all, there may well be a traitor in their midst.

Although not my favourite in the series (the winner of this title is the next in line - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), this definitely comes a close second. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is how large a leap it is from Chamber of Secrets. Things start to get very serious (and very Sirius), very quickly. The story is darker, bordering on deadly in places, and it's full of suspense. I also feel that the story in this one is the most intricate of the first three, with lots of lovely little details woven into the plot; the kind that make you breathe, "Oh!", once you realise their significance. Lovely!

Another exciting thing about this book is the deeper insights we are given into certain characters - Snape in particular. We're given a lot more of his past, and how he has come to hate Harry with such venom. I feel Dumbledore is shown a new light here too - he can be quite shrewd when he wants to be, and perhaps isn’t the jolly old gentleman we thought he was in the first two installments.

Most of all, our introduction to the Marauders is my favourite part of the novel. It's wonderful to see Harry presented with information about his father, and watching him meet some of the most important people in his father's life. Sirius and Lupin are two of my favourite characters of the series, and I really love meeting them all over again each time I read Prisoner of Azkaban.

Things are beginning to get exciting; so much so that I am almost dreading reading Goblet of Fire. It’s about to get real.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Book #36

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Harry is returning to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry after the summer holidays and, right from the start, things are not straightforward. Unable to board the Hogwarts express, Harry and his friends break all the rules and make their way to the school in a magical flying car. From this point on, incredible events happen to Harry and his friends--Harry hears evil voices and someone, or something is attacking the pupils. Can Harry get to the bottom of the mystery before it's too late?

This was just as delightful as the first, full of mystery, intrigue, and most of all, heart!

It is amazing how light and fun-filled these earlier installments seem to be when thinking about later episodes in Harry's life, and how horrifically dark these turn out to be. Despite Harry's run-ins with Lord Voldemort in the first couple of books, it really does all seem very jolly, ha-ha, Quidditchy in the beginning. I like this to an extent, as it's nice to see Harry having a pleasant(ish) childhood before things start to get messy. I don't like the feeling of sheer dread that comes with this, though, knowing what the poor boy will have to go through in a few years time (not to mention how emotionally distressing I always seem to find it, no matter how many times I have been through exactly the same events in the past).

Again, Rowling's imagination is fantastic here, and I can't praise her characters enough. We are introduced to Gilderoy Lockhart, who is obessed with his own fame and incredibly self-absorbed. Rowling has written him in such a way that we can completely identify with him - after all, there is a Gilderoy Lockhart imitation in everyone's life.

I particularly like this novel because Harry destroys the diary. I wouldn't want to go into detail and risk posting a huge spoiler; however I am sure the most Potter-hardcore of those who read my blog will know how monumental a moment this is on Harry's journey - even if he doesn't know it yet.

It's the little things that make the books work. De-gnoming at the Burrow, Floo powder, Howlers, Valentines dwarves, broken wands, flying cars - the Whomping Willow! It's all so exciting and different, yet glaringly believable. I cannot fault the stories at all.

Onwards, upwards, and further into the wizardly darkness I go.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Book #35

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling

Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy - until he is rescued by an owl, taken to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, learns to play Quidditch and does battle in a deadly duel. The reason: Harry Potter is a wizard! 

After my birthday visit to Harry Potter Studios, I couldn't wait to read the books again. After much cajoling from close friends (thank you), I decided to throw caution (i.e. my book list) to the wind, and read the Potters back to back once again. I can read these old favourites countless times, but how many times can I review them without gushing and repeating myself? Below is my recycled review from 2011 - all sentiments still very much agreed with:

Meeting Harry again at the beginning of his wizarding career is a pleasure. He is so innocent and vulnerable that Rowling makes you feel that he really deserves all of the wonderful things that happen to him. He hasn't been tainted by the cruelty he's been subjected to by his horrid aunt and uncle, and you can almost feel his essential goodness emanating from the first few pages. I remember completely falling in love with him when I was younger, and I am still in love with him.

I especially enjoy reading Harry Potter as a series because Rowling places tiny nuances into the early novels, hinting at the shape of things to come. Having prior knowledge of what Harry will endure in later novels is almost delicious, and Rowling's little hints are as equally thrilling.

I got slightly emotional in places here, most memorably when Harry had the Sorting Hat on and it screamed, "GRYFFINDOR," and also when Dumbledore awarded Neville ten points for his house as "he had never won so much as a point for Gryffindor before." The feelings I stumble upon whilst reading through these again are always so strange, but wonderful. It's like a set of old friends who I am visiting after a time apart, which is very odd, but I like it.

There are many things, good and bad, that can be said about Rowling's writing (although I would advise you not to criticise her to my face), but her characters cannot be faulted. They are all so rich and full, most of them remind you of someone you know, and you feel what you are supposed to feel for them, whether it is love or hate. The backgrounds we are given are always so concise and so deep that her characters will live on for a long, long time.

Rowling also manages to create this fantastical world of witches and wizards and makes it completely believable - so much so that I am of the opinion that the books were written to introduce us Muggles to the existence of the wizarding world in order to gauge how accommodating we would be towards them. We are shown so many weird and wonderful things, but not once does it feel at all far-fetched - it's Harry's world where anything can happen.