Books I’ve Read But Will Never Review

 

I have no strict review guidelines, at least not as far as my casual reviews. I used to think it was better to try to make them poetic… which, looking back at some of my older reviews, maybe it wasn’t… But there are some books, while I might have liked them, I don’t feel adequate in reviewing them. I love nonfiction and memoirs, but I slightly dread getting requests to review them, because I’m not often as knowledgeable about the subject as I feel I would have to be to do the book justice. These are some that I probably won’t ever review, at least not in-depth, though some hold a lot of interest for me and I like to discuss them.

The Bible
Genre: Religion
I’ve read the majority of the Bible, and even took a class on theology. It’s a fascinating subject to me, but understandably, I would never feel right “reviewing” a religious text, period, even though it would be more of a general overview than a typical review. How could I possibly? The Bible means so much to some people, and to others bringing it up infuriates them. It’s not fair to either party, and I would need to gather loads of historical information and context to even begin. Not to mention that the only version I’ve read likely is missing crucial pieces. You can also count other religious texts as literature I will never review.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Genre: Magic Realism / Science Fiction
Infinite Jest tested my patience. I don’t believe I finished it. I admire Wallace as a journalist, his nonfiction is amongst my favourite, but I don’t personally enjoy his fiction. If you’ve never heard of this book, it’s a strange science fiction novel about the size of an orca, with about ten squillion characters, each with their own unique narrative styles. I don’t not recommend it, but to me, it wasn’t pleasant at all to attempt. It would be ideal for a specific type of reader, that is not me, but I would definitely download a preview before you buy a copy. Continue reading “Books I’ve Read But Will Never Review”

Advertisements

Book Review – The Coma by Alex Garland

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Psychological Horror / Suspense
Publication Date: July 7th, 2005
Publisher: Faber & Faber

“When we wake, we die.”

Give The Coma a second chance, if at first it seems unclear or confusing. This novel is one of the moody, enigmatic types that likes to be shy with its details on your initial read-through, which gain an eerier significance on a revisit. It’s like an abstract painting in every sense, building up its steady storm of colours with intentions both sinister and serene.

Told through the deterioration of a man, Carl’s, psyche, after he is beaten to the point of unconsciousness on the subway, it’s less a linear story than it is a dreamlike exploration. In the aftermath of supposedly waking up, the pieces of reality that were once there don’t fit cleanly together anymore.

Maybe I’ve made it sound pretentious (a bad habit of mine when it comes to poetic books) but surprisingly, it’s not. Not even remotely. It’s just difficult to put into words. I read this a few years ago and wasn’t quite sure if I enjoyed it or not. I didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time, and remember thinking it was ambitious, but perplexing. I didn’t get it, but it haunted me. Now I think it’s actually a brilliant psychological novella. A philosophy of dream to aspire to, that leaves you with a ravenous need to know, while allowing the reader freedom to come to their own conclusions about what happens.

The Coma kind of hooks you in without your say-so, Garland’s abstract writing always skirting the bare edge of creepiness, like there’s some cosmic, horrifying realization budding under the surface that you know you’re going to have to face.

“I do all this alone. Everything I achieve, I achieve alone, because it’s my head I’m locked into, and I share this space with nobody but myself.”

Follow my reviews on Goodreads.

Psychological Novels You Should Read

Psychological thriller and its fraternal twin, psychological horror, are hands-down, my favourite genres. It’s the genre I strive to carve my name in, and it’s the one I get the most excited about when seeking new books and movies.
While few and far-between, compared to other genres, the spectrum of dark psychological fiction consistently churns out works of pretty high quality. There are exceptions, of course, but of all the psychological media I’ve watched, read and played, I can’t name ten that were any worse than “mediocre”.

That being said, I believe that the key reason for this, unfortunately, is that the genre is somewhat alienating. You have to be passionate about it to make it, and creating a good psychological work involves an exploration of dark places in the human psyche. Not exactly a fun weekend trip, that. Discovering new works in the genre can be difficult. So, I thought I’d share a handful of diamonds in the rough that I’ve discovered, and loved, in my eternal quest to scour everything the psychological duo have to offer.

The Coma by Alex Garland
Genre: Psychological Suspense
The Coma is like a softer, more sinister Inception, taking place in the mind of a man after he is assaulted on a subway, and wakes in the hospital to find he can no longer hold a grasp on what is real and what isn’t. Everything that was once normal in his life seems out-of-place and has a surreal, stilted tone to it.
I finished this novel over a weekend, and at first wasn’t sure what to make of it, or even if I enjoyed it, but in retrospect, I think it’s excellent. Garland conveys a transfinite reality that can be broken and morphed at will by one person’s subconscious.

Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi
Genre: Psychological Horror
Though its place on the roster shifts now and then, Perfect Blue is one of my favourite novels of all time and will likely remain one forever. It is, as you might have guessed, the basis for the cult horror anime Perfect Blue, but despite that and sharing a title, the film and the book aren’t incredibly similar other than the basic premise, and the creators’ shared disgust with the pop idol industry in Japan, and how those idols are (mis)treated by media and fans alike.
The master of creeps, the unnamed “Darling Rose”, who stalks and attempts to murder the pop singer heroine throughout the novel, is one of my favourite book villains. He is borderline inhuman, yet with an uncanny basis in reality, mirroring the crimes and motives of many real-life celebrity stalkers. Perfect Blue is not for everyone – some may be turned off by the blunt violence and abstract style, but I personally think it’s phenomenal both as a social satire and as a piece of horror. Continue reading “Psychological Novels You Should Read”

Lovecraft Reviews – “Hypnos”

Hypnos – ★★★ 3.5 Stars

Written: Spring 1922

“Death is merciful, for there is no return therefrom, but with him who has come back out of the nethermost chambers of night, haggard and knowing, peace rests nevermore.”

Is it dream that dictates the grey boundary between real and false, blurring and steeling the line at will? Is reality so murky, so mutable that it all might as well be delusion?
Hypnos, if you’ll recall, was the brother of Thanatos, after all. Dream, always so close to death.

This short is about a man who has an encounter with the god of dreams himself in a station, and finds he has something inexplicable in common, maybe a need for escape. They go to the man’s house and begin an opium-fueled trip that turns from a burst of creativity into a reality-warping nightmare, and possibly goes on for several years.

“Hypnos” is tilted more towards psychological horror than cosmic horror, even though Lovecraft uses the same kind of imagery he does in those stories. It’s a familiar paranoia, that sense of dread and conspiracy that spawns out of the blue, forcing you to question what’s real when it’s impossible to ever be one-hundred-percent sure. A vivid nightmare or a fever dream can do as much damage as opium, if not a little more because it’s a raw product of your imagination. When the man in the story sobers up, he is suddenly white-haired and elderly, and his friend has abandoned him. No one he asks believes that Hypnos was ever there at all.

I’m curious if this story wasn’t at least a partial inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. The way Hypnos is described – gaunt, with ghostly pale skin and depthless black eyes, dressed in a black robe – sounds an awful lot like Dream. Kind of a neat coincidence, if not, though I wouldn’t be surprised, since The Sandman uses a lot of Lovecraftian themes.

Most Disappointing Books of 2019 (So Far)

I recently pieced together a rough selection of books that, for the time being, are the most likely to make it onto my “Best Books of 2019” list at the end of the year, so figured I may as well tackle the opposite end of the spectrum, while I’m at it. These are the current contenders for the most disappointing books I’ve read in 2019. If you want to keep up with my books, feel free to follow or friend me on Goodreads, too. Goodreads feels dead as a cemetery lately, so I wouldn’t mind more interaction.

Keep in mind for this list that a novel being disappointing does not necessarily make it “bad”, so if one of these happens to be your favourite, that’s totally fine. Varying opinions are what make people interesting. If they made it on this list, it simply means I didn’t enjoy them, expected much more from them, or expected something different than what I got.

Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Romance
Books about bullying and how it differs between say, a lower-income public school and a prestigious prep school, carry a lot of psychological baggage for their writer to convey. Or, they should, if they want to remain in good taste. Gossip Girl was too self-indulgent and easy to take unironically for me to even find it a guilty pleasure, like I do the similar series, The Clique by Lisi Harrison. Neither I feel are especially good influences, not for their intended audience.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Humor
What I expected to be one of the best books, since I loved the film so much, turned out to be one of the worst. Starts strongly enough, but is ultimately made pointless by its ending and comes off as shockingly racist. I usually like to begin reviews with a quote and couldn’t find a suitable one in the actual meat of the text, so ended up having to use an unrelated quote that the novel used as a chapter header. That should tell you something. Skip the book and just watch the movie adaptation, you will have a much more fulfilling experience that way. Continue reading “Most Disappointing Books of 2019 (So Far)”

Book Review – Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Science Fiction / Mystery
Series: Blue Ant
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2003
Publisher: Penguin

“We have no future because our present is too volatile. We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition.”

Pattern Recognition is a capsule from which paranoia gradually blossoms. Earth is a microcosm, really, in the great span of things, but the rapid onset of technology and connection have had the ironic downside of making it feel as small as it is, tightly webbed yet somehow immensely lonely.

Predictable as it might be for me to say it, this novel feels eerily prescient and knowing in a way that goes beyond the author’s imagination. It seems to have anticipated that strange lonely closeness creeping in through our screens. There exists a paradox of clarity and riddle, or perhaps reality and falsehood, in its pages that makes it feel like something you’ve actually just watched unfold.

Gibson’s phenomenal writing does outclass the actual plot, I suppose, but it’s a pretty lofty height the story would have to reach in order to match the way it’s told. The writing in itself is a network of intricacy, the edges of deep, impenetrable mystery just visible as it develops the variables of its equation. Gibson uses the raw delicacy of poetry and yet keeps it secretive, an outstretched hand seeming to offer everything upfront but hiding a labyrinth of tiny microbes you’ll never see working against you.
There are stretches, especially in the beginning, that could easy have been boring if it’d been written by anybody else, but instead feel rather like a brief reprise before the catastrophe sets in. Continue reading “Book Review – Pattern Recognition by William Gibson”

The Best Books of 2019 (So Far)

On this day, more of this year is now dead than alive. Normally I cling to time like a miser clings to pocket change, but I will be happy when this year’s over. Not merely happy, but elated. 2019 has worked its way into the official hall of shame in my memories, slightly higher than middle school but slightly lower than the entirety of 2016. And there’s still five long months to suffer through!

One of the few upsides, however, is that I’ve discovered some truly wonderful books. Most of my reading this year has been average, as usual, with only a handful of ones I would call “bad” reads, and a surprising amount that really stood out. So far, these are the best contenders, in no particular order, for the final countdown I’ll be doing around the end of the year. Be sure to check them out if you can. These are books and authors definitely worth their salt!

The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Every now and then, the stars align and produce the exact book you desire at the exact moment you want to read it. This is one of those rare occurrences. The Mad and the Bad is an older, and comparatively obscure piece of noir fiction that is at the same time, far different from any noir fiction I’ve ever read – quirky and outlandish yet with an insanely dark sense of humor and irony. I plan on doing a review of this one eventually, so won’t spoil too much. You should just go out and read it, it shouldn’t take more than a few days to finish it.

Stain by A.G. Howard
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Young adult fiction needs more writers like A.G. Howard. Her writing style is unabashed and intelligent, and wickedly contorts the over-used tropes of fairytales into something brilliant. While I thought Howard’s more famous series, Splintered, was phenomenal, Stain shows a stronger sense of mischievous, calculating cunning and maturity in its development that ultimately made for a deeper story.

Smashed by Junji Ito
Genre: Horror / Short Stories
I am a hardcore Junji Ito fanatic, so pretty much any new work of his, even if it’s a stylish reprint of older stories, will automatically make the Top 10 for that year. Smashed got mixed reviews for being, I suppose, more haphazard in tone than his last two horror omnibuses, but as far as enjoyment of the stories goes, I actually liked this one more than both Shiver and Frankenstein. Continue reading “The Best Books of 2019 (So Far)”

Reviews Revisited – I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Horror / Mystery
Series: John Cleaver
Publication Date: March 30th, 2009
Publisher: Tor Books

“Fear is about things you can’t control. The future or the dark, or someone trying to kill you. You don’t get scared of yourself because you always know what you’re going to do.”

Dan Wells’s debut is an unusual witches’ brew of dark humor, cerebral horror and bleak small-town life. The writing has jagged edges in its beginnings, but I have yet to find another series that I love with so little wavering. This is one of those rarities where I feel it was written specifically for me, with everything I knew and didn’t know I sought in a novel.

Me and this series are like connate flowers. However, John Cleaver really schemed and staked his way into my heart, and was cemented as an instant perma-favourite series to me with the second book, Mr. Monster. I Am Not a Serial Killer suffers from initial uneasiness as Wells gets on his feet with the series, and sudden doses of genre whiplash. The first novel pools its arachnoid feet into many genres, but gives off a flighty self-consciousness about taking the leap from a mystery with paranormal aspects into straight-out horror, which it definitely becomes by the second book. This was the only trait it had I didn’t care for, and I still don’t upon revisits, but the unsure tone actually fits when the main character’s chaos of self. John is never sure what he wants to be.

John “It Doesn’t Matter What Other People Think When You’re Right” Cleaver is a bitter, anxious, antisocial teen with hair-trigger violent tendencies that he struggles to keep from unraveling on those who don’t deserve his wrath, whether it be his mother or his friends. He is pulled between crushing loneliness and craving nothing more than being alone, something that reflected painfully when I first read it. His discussions with his therapist, Dr. Neblin, devolve from him not taking them seriously and trying to freak the doctor out, into panic and emotional decay from trying to hold up the façade of being “normal” and never showing anger, out of fear of what he’ll end up doing.

“I’m on the edge, Neblin, I’m off the edge – I’m over the edge and falling to Hell on the other side. […] I’m down in the cracks of the sidewalk,” I said, “in the dirt and in the blood, and the ants are looking up and we’re damning you all, Neblin. I’m down in the cracks and I can’t get out.” Continue reading “Reviews Revisited – I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells”

Top 10 Scariest Stories to Tell in the Dark (Pt. 2)

Sorry for the delay between this and Part One, which began the countdown of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark I find to be the most unnerving, gruesome and haunting of them all, in light of the upcoming film adaptation. Please read Part One first if you haven’t already, and take into context that these are plucked from the original, beloved Schwartz and Gammell books, not any of the alternate reprints. Gammell’s illustrations (and a decent dose of nostalgia) have a massive effect on the creep factor that is absent from the Helquist-illustrated version.

5. Oh, Susanna! from Book 2
The story itself is disconcerting enough, being about a serial killer who sneaks into a student’s dorm and beheads her roommate while she’s trying to sleep, but the illustration for this is so abstract and bleak and “WTF” that it unintentionally makes it far more nightmarish. It depicts, at least in my personal interpretation, the killer as a skeletal beast severing the head of Susannah, the roommate, which carries the protagonist off into the abyss of horrific realization.
While it does it through grotesque methods, “Oh, Susanna!” is a great point to bring up when discussing cerebral depth in children’s books. This drawing made my imagination go insane and back around again, trying to determine what it meant.

Image result for oh susanna scary stories

4. Harold from Book 3
“Harold” is the darling of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and features on most of the new film’s promotional art. Scarecrows are not fundamentally scary. They are big, stuffed dolls with silly faces and button eyes. But that unchanging expression would be disturbing if say, you abused a scarecrow for kicks and it learned how to move like a person just to spite you. And it only gets worse. I won’t spoil this one because the ending is brutal. Most of the Scary Stories library, as far as the actual plots go, would not be upsetting to an adult, but I think this is one of the exceptions. Continue reading “Top 10 Scariest Stories to Tell in the Dark (Pt. 2)”

Book Review – Brazen by Pénélope Bagieu

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Full Title: Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World
Genre: Biography
Publication Date: March 6th, 2018
Publisher: First Second

There is no more straightforward way to put it – this graphic novel is phenomenal. If you need a boost of vitality and determination in such trying times as these, look no further than Brazen. This book makes you reflect on yourself and say, I could do this too. The obstacles suddenly don’t seem so insurmountable anymore, at least for awhile.

Though if I did learn one important fact in this collection, it’s that most artistic and scientific fields historically have been overseen by, well… bigots and incompetents, and even with the efforts of these wonderful women and others, are still very much in dire need of an overhaul in their bureaucracy and ways they practice. Most, if not all of these women, even those alive in more recent years, have had to struggle for recognition because of these institutions and their staunch attitudes that they can do no wrong. If we hope to make any positive change to this little gloom-ball we live on, sometimes the system has to be challenged.

Bagieu tells the shortened but fascinating legacy of thirty important women, both influential and underappreciated, in all their determination, wit and triumph, giving each of their stories their own unique colour scheme. Not only is Brazen a visually beautiful and charming book, but it never feels anything less than passionate and heartfelt on the artist’s part, and is one of the most inspiring collections I’ve read.

What surprised me is that I actually knew most of these women. I’m very familiar with Tove Jansson, Nellie Bly, Josephine Baker, but I didn’t know the sheer extent of their accomplishments. That’s something a simple search won’t really elaborate on. Some of these women were practically the nucleus of their field, it being nonexistent or a hopeless train wreck before they came along. Continue reading “Book Review – Brazen by Pénélope Bagieu”

Top 10 Scariest Stories to Tell in the Dark (Pt. 1)

Image result for scary stories to tell in the dark illustrations

A few days ago, I wrote some meandering thoughts on the upcoming Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark film adaptation, which I’m simultaneously uneasy and excited about, so I thought for the fun of it, I’d do a countdown of my favourites from the classic children’s trilogy. This book series, as I’ve noted, is vital in forming my love of the horror genre. It’s about as important to me as one of my own creations.

These are loosely rated from tamest to scariest. What I found unnerving could easily not be to somebody else, however. I personally find ones with human, or once-human, perpetrators to be the most memorable, rather than the more supernatural shorts. Each of the three books has its own signature “feel” as well, which affected my ratings. Whereas the second book is about human evils and the third about paranormal, cosmic horrors, the first book is more lighthearted campfire horror and hence, fewer stories from it made this list, though I would call it equally as enjoyable as its sequels.

10. Such Things Happen from Book 3
The fear of witchcraft is heavily ingrained in American folklore. In my speculation, it’s a combination of the young country’s large expanses of isolation, which can lead to seeing things that aren’t easily explained, and America’s staunch religious background. Its root is a fear of becoming cursed or damned, and that fear is portrayed with eerie accuracy in this story about a man who accidentally earns the hate of a supposed witch by running over her cat. “Such Things Happen” doesn’t get mentioned enough, as it’s more on the psychological edge and it’s possible there’s nothing paranormal in this story.

9. The Window from Book 2
A woman wakes up late in the night to find a golden-eyed corpse staring in her window. She makes the mistake of running and it attacks her. The woman and her brothers discover that it’s a vampire ravaging fresh crypts in the graveyard and bleeding the living who are unlucky enough to be in its path. What makes this story haunting is the sheer anxiety of looking out the window at night. What would you do if you saw something that wasn’t exactly human anymore?

8. One Sunday Morning from Book 2
“One Sunday Morning” is an extremely short story about a woman who arrives at her church early to find she has intruded on a sermon for the dead, but all you need to care about is this illustration, and where it will show itself in your nightmares tonight.

Related image Continue reading “Top 10 Scariest Stories to Tell in the Dark (Pt. 1)”

Book Review – Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

★ 1.5 Stars

Genre: Romance / Erotica
Publication Date: May 25th, 2011
Publisher: Vintage

Volunteering to read Fifty Shades of Grey is like volunteering to be waterboarded, except with poor writing in lieu of water. Just when you think the torture might be over, another faceful of metaphor slurry and childish dialogue floods into your lungs. You knew what you were in for, and you knew exactly how fun it would be, and yet some irrational seed nudged you into doing it anyway.
In a way, Fifty Shades does succeed at being the ultimate act of sadomasochism. It actively hurts to continue and yet you remain compelled to. This is not so much out of intrigue, as trying to figure out what value anyone could possibly see in the experience. Why was there such a mysticism and phenomena surrounding this chunk of fanfiction? That’s all it is, really, and reading the entire series I imagine would be something akin to spiritual suicide.

At the height of Fifty Shades of Infamy, I saw what I’m pretty sure were middle-schoolers toting copies of this stupid book. Which, by the way, the physical design shocks me. The cover is as aggressively uninteresting as its innards, and looks like an early vanity press churn-out. It has that same plastic, filmy feel and cheap JPEG texture to the design. I couldn’t believe Vintage published this! Their books are typically beautiful. It’s like they were subtly trying to inspire you to avoid it, but were stuck promoting it at the same time.

Fifty Shades of Grey, as you likely already know, revolves around a closet serial killer, Patrick Bate– I mean, Christian Grey, who, in his spare time between being a pompous entrepreneur and being a Criminal Minds villain, seduces a blushing idiot named Anastasia. They get into a relationship that borders on abusive and a series of embarrassing euphemisms ensues. What is supposed to be steamy deflates quickly as it begins to come off as creepy.
The more mundane scenes aren’t much better, full of nonsensical pseudo-economics and a general dull lack of realism I shan’t bother going into, because you might fall asleep on your keyboard. On the other hand, you might accidentally type out a better book than this if you do, so maybe I will…

I am a survivor of Victorian in-joke Irene Iddlesleigh, so in fairness, Fifty Shades is hardly the worst book I’ve ever read. Sure, it’s tedious and insulting, and romance readers deserve better, but it is at least a functional book that humans can read easily using their eyestalks. But that’s a bare essential, not a compliment.
Everything about this novel is boring. “Boring” is the deadliest of the seven book sins. Rarely, the amateurish writing has the good grace to be amusing, especially with the “sex scenes”, which are almost the exact antithesis of sexy, coming off as peculiar, awkward and strangely prudish, despite trying their maximum try-hard level of hardest to be edgy. But mostly, Fifty Shades of Grey is more like Fifty Shades of Brown, because it’s about like watching molasses drip. It’s not even fun to parody, as you’ll notice if you look through the plethora of equally boring parodies that were churned out in its wake. Continue reading “Book Review – Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James”

Book Review – Perfect by Natasha Friend

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: September 16th, 2004
Publisher: Milkweed Editions

You are never alone in anything, no matter how it feels. Everyone must face their own tragedy, and deal with their own disorder. Some are just better at seeming composed.

I could read this book about a thousand times and find scarce to dislike. I believe this is one of the absolute best young adult books, especially for girls. Friend, I’ve noticed, takes care to challenge the conventional concept of perfection, and if it’s even necessary. Which it isn’t, spoiler alert. Coming from a staunch perfectionist who’s struggled with abandoning society’s expectations, you know I’m serious about that. At the end of the day, if the goal you’ve reached is the desire of someone who isn’t you, and came at the cost of important facets of your personality, it wasn’t worth it, and will be replaced with a new one to covet tomorrow.

Perfect is about the cycle of unhappiness that spawns eating disorders, though there are a lot of small and traumatic events that usually factor into it. Friend writes in a way that’s easy to approach and never preachy or contrived, letting you come to your own conclusion about Isabelle’s path.
The death of her father led into a depression, and the only influence outside of that is a girl she befriends at school, who despite all appearances as “the perfect girl”, has an extremely damaged self-image and forces herself to throw up so often that she starts bleeding from the mouth. Isabelle sees in her a mirror of her own bulimia, and their relationship becomes a paradox of enabling each other’s disorder and offering a genuine bond based around it. Continue reading “Book Review – Perfect by Natasha Friend”

A Note on “Reviews Revisited”

I have to restrain myself from re-reading older reviews sometimes, especially ones from before 2018. I’ve completely rewritten many of them, but the remnants are some sweet cringe. At least to me. Recently, I’ve been revisiting some of these books and I think I will start a new branch of book reviews on ones I’ve already covered, but may think differently about, or think they deserve a better (or worse) review upon another examination. I’ll list them as “Reviews Revisited”, so if you’ve seen the book on here before, you’ll know why. A lot of movie critics will do this, but books I feel take more of an effort to decide if you like it or not, or what it objectively deserves. They consume a lot more time to finish and have a more unusual set of nuances than film.

Not that it matters when you’re just writing reviews for fun, but it’s good to have some spores of integrity. People have worked hard on these, and though many of the authors whose work I’ve written about will never see it, several actually have, so I think on that off-chance, they deserve honesty. And anyway, it takes some effort to get a cruel review from me. It’s got to be some maggot-ridden dumpster fodder to get stamped with a one or zero-star rating.

I grade books a little bit differently from most reviewers, I believe. The Goodreads star system, for example, rates one-star as a standard “I didn’t like it”, but I personally consider two-star to be in that range for me. Two-stars or a low three is just an ordinary bad read for me. I didn’t like it but someone else could. It’s competent as a book, at least, if not enjoyable. One-star I reserve for books that are in some vein harmful, pure idiocy, bad pseudo-science, abusive, slandering, unreadable, poorly written, non-plotted pieces of smoldering, grade-F guano that should be left to rot, if they aren’t already being used as torture devices to get people to confess. It has to really suck, in other words. As far as I recall, only ten or twelve books have ever earned this place. I’ll get to those eventually, too.

Book Review – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Screenplay) by J.K. Rowling

★★★★ 4 Stars

Series: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplays
Genre:
 Fantasy / Adventure
Publication Date: November 18th, 2016
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

“My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.”

In my honest opinion, the Fantastic Beasts series was a fantastic way for Rowling to rejuvenate the Harry Potter universe and spread its branches in fresh, inventive directions. It needed this after Cursed Child, which I didn’t particularly like and thought was a mishandled retcon of the original novels. Like virtually every witchy soul in this strange little world, the novels remain amongst my favourites, and if ever somehow they don’t age well for me in years to come, I will forever be fond towards them.

Screenplays, by their nature, aren’t exactly “engaging” in the way a novel is, but it’s fun and a quick read nonetheless, and the movie the script goes with is really entertaining. Fantastic Beasts wins where Cursed Child faltered. The characters are consistent, moreso because they are new characters that haven’t really been a major part of the series before, and because Rowling herself actually developed and wrote this one in its entirety. Cursed Child took established characters from the novels and… descended into strange, fanfiction-like caricatures of them. Traumatic flashes of My Immortal and its infamous poetic prose dashed through my head the entire time with that screenplay. Continue reading “Book Review – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Screenplay) by J.K. Rowling”

Book Review – Seafire by Natalie C. Parker

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Adventure / Post-Apocalyptic
Publication Date: August 28th, 2018
Publisher: Razorbill

“Four years ago this had been a fantasy. Trapped on a beach with nothing but a gut wound, her best friend, and this very ship in pieces. Caledonia could only dream of the day she had the means to stand up and fight. It had come sooner than she could have hoped, the morning Pisces looked at her square in the eyes and said she wanted revenge. It came as they bent their minds to the task of recovering their ship. It came one girl at a time.”

Oh, I am conflicted. Flighty as the tides that carry in the flotsam and treasure alike. Let me just say that I adore this novel. In most aspects, I do. But the traits I didn’t like are extremely troubling in a relentless way that niggles at the back of your head. This book is its own contained Stop & Go Station, a whiplash of dark and urgent and whimsical and tranquil that is still somehow extremely addictive either way it goes. But it also makes you nervous because it’s very obvious when someone’s bound to die.

I really appreciate the simpler prose. Parker doesn’t inject what is really a pretty straightforward story with lacy, flowery padding. My biggest issue was how the characterization was handled, but I’ll get to that. The plot of Seafire concerns a young woman, Caledonia, who along with her best friend, Pisces are the sole survivors of a massacre upon their ship, in some kind of apocalyptic era where the world is extremely hot and oceanic. The waters are controlled by a warlord named Aric Athair who forcibly recruits children and turns them into soulless murder machines.

The praise suggested it was inspired by the film Fury Road, which I was afraid, because it was the praise that compared the two, that Seafire would just be a straight rip-off. Thankfully, it’s not, though there are distinct shades of that movie in this. If you liked it, you’d probably like this too. I did, anyway. Continue reading “Book Review – Seafire by Natalie C. Parker”

Book Review – To Dance by Siena Cherson Siegel

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Memoir / Sports
Publication Date: October 1st, 2006
Publisher: Atheneum-Richard Jackson Books

To Dance is the story of Siena Cherson Siegel’s journey from her desire to be a ballerina at age six to her debut performance with the New York City Ballet as a young adult. Siegel was faced with being unable to compete several times, due to being flat-footed, personal issues or injuries, yet prevailed with optimism. It’s an uplifting story told in whimsical watercolours by Mark Siegel.

While To Dance is light-hearted, Siegel doesn’t spare the brutal honesty of ballet, and how extraordinarily difficult it can be to break into its ranks at all, much less achieve fame. The art of ballet and its behind-the-scenes has for some reason, always interested me more than actual ballets have. It is definitely a demanding profession, asking so much of you, physically and mentally, that it takes an insane amount of determination to succeed in. Thus, I have a lot of respect for ballerinas. I’ve heard this graphic novel described as “symphonic”, and I think that fits quite well, the art flowing as smoothly as a lifeline.

Follow my reviews on Goodreads.

ballet1

Book Review – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach

★★ 2.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: March 7th, 2005
Publisher: Vintage Books

“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of the mind.” -Dhammapada

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of those rare cases in which the movie is far, far better than the book. Originally titled These Foolish Things when it was first published, then renamed to coincide with the film adaptation, in the end, I found myself unable to remember much about it, at least that was positive. Promised to me was a fluffy, heart-warming read, not whatever it was I got, this chunky mix of decent bits and excruciating, offensive bits.
There is a pretty notable amount of differences between the two, even the essential plot changes – from two cousins beginning a retirement scheme for English expats in India in the novel to a son trying to rebuild his father’s hotel in the film.

It makes sense to me now why they would rename the book to match the film. The film stands out so well because, besides the amazing sets and soundtrack, it’s written much more sensitively, so that you’ll care about the characters despite their sometimes aggravating quirks. Most of the cast, save for Jean Ainslie, grow as people and shed any hesitations they might’ve had about living in India. The novel begins engagingly, then throws out its character growth as soon as it shows signs of blossom. At first I’d given it three stars, but the more I thought about this, the less I can say I enjoyed it. Continue reading “Book Review – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach”

Lovecraft Reviews – “The Book” and “Memory”

The Book – ★★★ 3.5 Stars

Written: Autumn 1933

“For he who passes the gateway always wins a shadow, and never again can he be alone.”

The Necronomicon strikes again in its coat of human skin, to terrorize a poor stranger who happens to find it lying by a gutter. It’s interesting how throughout H.P. Lovecraft’s body of work, the book of curses manages to destroy reality in such a variety of different ways. In this incarnation, it wavers reality through its very fabric, and the narrator is stalked through the state of flux by a hoard of beings he cannot see.

Does “The Book” sounds familiar? That’s because it’s an apparently incomplete reimagining, or perhaps another version, of “The Festival”. The prose is tighter in this story, at least, and it has traces of that unusual dream-discomfort I love to see in horror and suspense, but this and “The Festival” are essentially the same plot with a different outcome. Reading a heavy dose of Lovecraft at once can, in fact, invoke a feeling of those “choose-your-own-adventure” books from the 90s.

The 1890s, that is.

Memory – ★★★ 3 Stars

Written: Spring 1919

“Memory” recalls a primordial past, a vein of previous selves that are perhaps better left behind. This free verse piece has the atmosphere of a sinister, dystopian Arabian Nights, but that’s really the only strength it has to tell, as it’s only three pages. I’ve always thought that Lovecraft was more cut out for poems and prose than storytelling, personally, though his creative ideas were psychedelic and grotesque, mostly in a good way.

Follow my reviews on Goodreads.

Book Review – The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

★★★★ 4 Stars

Series: Louise Rick
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2015
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

I’d never heard of this series or author before, and what really coerced me into reading The Forgotten Girls was its setting – the eerie, ethereal rural woodlands of Denmark. How a story can be so enticing when the subject grows so horrifying is a mystery in itself. Blaedel’s writing is meticulous but unsparing in realism. The style is fittingly stark, like a tree stripped of bark to reveal bloodstains.

The plot revolves around a detective, Louise Rick, and her partner investigating the death of a mentally disabled woman thought to have died over a decade ago, and her link to a series of violent assaults in the area. The Forgotten Girls pulses by so fast, I feel like going into more detail about the plot would unintentionally spoil something. It becomes a subtle but hard commentary on a topic that’s often buried, in how the woman and her sister were treated by the asylum they used to live in. It’s especially cruel in the ways which these “mishaps” were covered up, the underbelly of a system that continues to fail people in need.

I appreciate that Blaedel chose not to exploit the abuse and violence in this novel for shock value, considering what it’s about, but also didn’t pull any punches about the reality of it. That’s a hard medium to hit. I didn’t know when I began that The Forgotten Girls was in the middle of an ongoing series, but I never found myself getting confused. The plot about Camilla, I didn’t care about that much. It was sort of ordinary and dragged down the flow, up until when Camilla tries to “infiltrate” the asylum as one of the staff’s relatives. It gets a little more interesting then.

A mystery where the culprit and plot are difficult to guess tend to be the best kind. The unspoken coldness and bitterness between the suspects and victims, which turns out to have more of an overlap than Louise originally thought, lends to a constant doubt. The Forgotten Girls is steeped in a tense chill and haunting melancholy, with an unforgettable ending.

Follow my reviews on Goodreads.