Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Yellow Wallpaper: If You’re Not Already a Feminist, You Will Be After This

A Review By: Amelia
Feminism has been a real hot topic button this past year and I, for one, couldn’t be more pleased. It’s time the world stops looking at women like objects and accepts we’re people too. In honour of the feminist movement I dug into my old university books to retrieve The Yellow Wallpaper–one of the first feminist pieces ever written and a truly creepy short story regardless of that!

Presented in first person through a collection of journal entries, The Yellow Wallpaper is about a woman whose doctor husband has confined her to the attic room to recuperate from what he calls a ‘temporary nervous depression’, a diagnosis given to many women of the period. The windows are barred, the door is locked, and with nothing to stimulate her she becomes obsessed by the pattern and colour of the room’s wallpaper until it finally drives her mad.

The author of The Yellow Wallpaper is Charlotte Perkins Gilman who was a prominent American feminist, sociologist, novelist, and a utopian feminist because of her unorthodox concepts and her lifestyle during a time when her accomplishments were considered exceptional for women. The Yellow Wallpaper was a semi-autobiographical piece which she wrote after a severe bout of postpartum psychosis.

The main character of the piece is the woman narrator who goes unnamed for the whole piece (although it’s likely when the woman mentions a Jane near the end of the piece that she’s speaking about herself). The narrator is an upper-middle-class woman who is newly married and a mother who is being treated for a slight hysterical tendency. Her only company is a secret diary and, as she loses grip of reality, the women she’s convinced are creeping around the attic room’s yellow wallpaper. As she loses touch with the ‘outside’, she comes to understand her ‘inside’ with a comprehension that the women (the ones she sees in the yellow wallpaper) are forced to creep around and hide inside their own lives–lives prescribed to them by the society in which they were born into–and that she herself is one of them.

The Yellow Wallpaper is hailed as one of the first and one of the most important feminist works as it illustrates the attitudes in the 19th century towards women and the physical and mental health. The woman’s mental decline is thought to be normal by her doctor husband because he couldn’t be bothered to learn that it’s not. It’s a story that brings up feelings of sadness for the women and immense angry at a world that would let this happen to anyone. It’s also a truly creepy piece of literature, though it’s not a horror story based on anything supernatural: it’s quite the opposite. The horror comes from the realization that the narrator (and perhaps the readers themselves) has to lose herself to understand herself and that speaks deeply to the fact that many women, then and now, don’t get to just be themselves; they have to label themselves and then hide behind that.

My final thoughts on short story The Yellow Wallpaper is that it’s hauntingly amazing. Gilman writes with such conviction because, well, she went through something disturbing like this, and doesn’t that make it even more terrifying? It’s a short story that feminists, their critics, and everyone else should read to gain perspective and possibly even lose some.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Ring: A Novel Turned Movie Turned Manga – And I Must Say, Third Time’s a Charm!

A Review By: Amelia
I love ghost stories! I’ve said it in reviews in the past and I’m saying it again in this review–a well thought out ghost story is the best thing to read, and no one country does a good ghost story quite like Japan does. The Ring is one such ghost story. Like Ju-On (also one of my favourite ghost stories!) it features people with regular lives that are suddenly thrust into a horrifying world of vengeful, powerful ghosts.

The story of The Ring (for those that don’t know) is about a cursed video. When a journalist looks into the existence of the supposedly cursed videotape, she unleashes a ghost upon herself that’s bent on revenge. With the video giving little to nothing in way of clues, all seems lost. When her little boy accidentally watches it though, she has just one week to solve the mystery of the cursed video if she wishes to save herself and her child. Although there are some major changes from the book to the manga to the movies (not even including the American remake) this is the plot that drives the terrifying story forward.

Koji Suzuki penned the novel The Ring to which all other Ring stories are based off of, but if you’ve seen the Japanese movie and read the book, they are very, very different. This is down to Hiroshi Takahashi, who adapted the novel to a manga and a screenplay form. Along with the manga artist Misao Inagaki, Takahashi has taken a story that was good and made it great with a deeper look into the mythos of The Ring.
The art style of The Ring is fairly simple compared to what I’ve seen in other mangas. The faces are detailed just enough to show emotion and the locations detailed just enough to show you where the characters are: a forest, a living room, an auditorium–everything is very minimal and features a lot of closes up and a lot of shadows. It’s actually a very striking art style and works well with the horror atmosphere that the plot creates.

The Ring makes a great manga; it makes a better manga than it does a novel or movie! The minimalistic art is striking and doesn’t take away from the story. In fact, it adds to it! By not drawing attention away from the story with showy, over detailed art, the horrifying plot really shines.

My final thoughts on The Ring, as a manga, are that it’s really good. Better than good–it is great! It’s a horror story like no other. It’s an old-fashioned ghost story that is truly unsettling and after so many years of unsatisfying, unintelligent, unscary horror bombarding us from every possible media, The Ring has a manga is a breath of horrifyingly fresh air!

Saturday, 7 December 2013

The Birthing House: A Horror Novel That’s Horror Is Stillborn

A Review By: Amelia

I love horror stories, they’re one of my favourite genres to read, and I always browse the shelves of thrift stores for any good horror pieces. The Birthing House was one such book that caught my eye and even had a rave review on the inside cover that compared it to Stephen King’s The Shining. For two bucks I thought it was a steal. Unfortunately it turns out that two bucks and the several hours I spent reading it, were completely and utterly wasted.

When Conrad Harrison impulse buys a big, old house in Wisconsin, his wife Jo doesn’t share his enthusiasm and Conrad is left to set up their new home as she ties up loose ends in LA. But the house isn’t what it seems and Conrad soon hears the wailing of a phantom baby and sees a woman who looks exactly like Jo but isn’t. When he becomes obsessed with the pregnant girl next door, who claims to be a victim of the evil of the house, Conrad’s life begins to unravel and leads him to a nightmarish conclusion.

Sounds pretty good, right? Creepy, original, and weird–maybe just a touch disturbing? Well prepare to be as disappointed as I was. As far as debut novels go, this one should NOT have gotten the author, Christopher Ransom, a book deal.

The main characters of the piece is Conrad Harrison and his wife Jo and boy are these two just a pair of hot messes. Ransom didn’t develop his main characters at all. Or rather, he did, but he did it poorly! Conrad is as shallow as a puddle and about half as interesting and Jo–what a bitch!–and not even in a ‘that’s her character way’ just in a ‘she’s written so poorly and her character is incomprehensible’ way! Nadia, the pregnant next door neighbour, is the only semi-likeable character and that’s only because she’s a mostly vapid teenage girl character and Ransom has apparently seen enough of those over the years to write one himself! There’s also an old girlfriend named Holly that appears in several long-winded and rather pointless flashback chapters but she’s just as hollow as the other characters. If anything, Holly is less a fleshed-out character and more just a fictional teenage fantasy of a fictional man.

I don’t even know where to begin with the themes of this piece. At first, Ransom leads us to believe that the house is haunted, but then it’s not and the characters are simply unravelling because of extenuating circumstances. Then, lo and behold, by the last fifty pages the house is haunted again. What are we, as the readers, supposed to make of that? What does it say about the characters? About the plot development? Nothing good, that much I can tell you!

The location of this disastrous novel is set pretty much exclusively in the creepy old house that Conrad buys. The whole mystery that the book is based on is tied-up completely in the house, but Ransom’s incohesive prose leaves almost all the mysteries of the birthing house unanswered.

The Birthing House is awful. It’s as simple as that. It’s just awful. It’s a book that doesn’t know what it wants to be. The narrator’s voice is sloppy, the prose is ugly and clunky, the characters unappealing, the plot full of holes, the dialogue pure drivel, there are gross and useless sex scenes, superfluous swearing (and I, myself, swear gratuitously so for me to say that means a lot), the mysteries are left unsolved, the horror unutilized–need I go on? There is not one good aspect of this book and I must say, my favourite thing about it, was finishing it and throwing it away!

My final thoughts on The Birthing House are don’t read it. Seriously, just don’t bother. In my opinion, this book should not have been birthed. This is a novel that Christopher Ransom’s editor should have had aborted.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Long Halloween: Batman at His Finest

A Review By: Amelia
Batman has had a lot of stories. He’s been around for seventy-five years–of course he’s had a lot of stories! Movies, videogames, comics, television, Batman has had more media coverage than some natural disasters. Over the course of so much material, some of those stories are remarkable, some not so much. Batman: The Long Halloween is one of the remarkable ones.

The Long Halloween is a story that spans a year. It’s a Batman epic that revolves around the untouchable crime family the Falcones and some of Batman’s most classic super-villains as a new killer dubbed Holiday kills on one holiday of every month.

Jeph Loeb, the writer of The Long Halloween, is a four-time Eisner Award winner and five-time Wizard Fan Awards winner and his comic book work, most of which he’s composed with artist Tim Sale, has appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list. 

All the rogues that appear throughout.
The Long Halloween, like many comics before it, feature a huge assortment of Batman’s famous gallery of rogues and they each get their own special appearance on a particular holiday. Poison Ivy gets St. Patrick’s day (her hair is made of clovers), Scarecrow gets Mother’s day (he killed his own mother on Mother’s day), and Riddler gets April Fools (for… obvious reasons I think). What makes The Long Halloween so remarkable is that regular criminals make up a huge part of this graphic novel too. The crime lords and their families fight amongst themselves and more than a few of their numbers are taken out by the killer dubbed Holiday. The supervillains of Gotham are only brought in as a last resort to help the Falcone family: it’s a great twist in the usual Batman-fights-freaks story line.

An example of the art deco style
The art style in The Long Halloween is fantastic–some of the best, most original art I’ve seen in a modern comic. It’s not hyper-realistic like, say, Hush (which is also a Batman comic written by Jeph Loeb) but instead has an art deco feel to it. The shadows are all encompassing yet they don’t overtake. Likewise with the colours, which are muted yet still vivid. Batman was, however, created for an art deco universe so the shadows, colours and design of the piece, which are solid, angular, and dark, fit the Bat-universe like a glove.

Batman is my favourite superhero so maybe I’m a little biased but The Long Halloween is perfect. It’s paced flawlessly with a killer whose identity you won’t be able to guess–not that that’s a bad thing, it was actually kind of nice to not know a thing about the killer. The plot is perfect, the art is perfect, just everything about this graphic novel is perfect.

My final thoughts on Batman: The Long Halloween are that it is just fantastic. It’s my favourite Batman comic and I think if you read it now it’ll be your favourite Batman comic too. The art deco style might be a little strange at first if you’re more the ilk of realism, but it grows on you quickly. Even if the art doesn’t appeal to you, the story–the perfect story–it’s more than enough to keep you reading!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Stuff Hipsters Hate: A Book About Hate That I Also Hated!

A Review By: Amelia
Hipsters are a trend that we in the twenty-first century just can’t seem to get rid of. Their numbers have exploded in the last few years from a few disillusioned twenty-somethings that thought they were better than everyone else, to a nation of disillusioned twenty through forty somethings who think they’re better than everyone else! But what do we really know about them other than they work as baristas and claim to have ‘been into that’ before anyone else? This book, Stuff Hipsters Hate, stakes out to educate the non-hipsters.

Stuff Hipsters Hate is an insider’s take down of the two author’s own subculture–hipsterdom. The blog Stuff Hipsters Hate has been deconstructing this often-mocked subculture that’s known for its their wide-reaching disdain for most things.

The authors of this book are Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz and, as you might have guessed, they also run the Stuff Hipsters Hate blog. They are hipsters themselves, so I just had to trust they knew what they were talking/mocking about.

The plot of Stuff Hipsters Hate is right there in the title–it’s stuff hipsters hate. It’s laid out like a scientist’s field journal in chapters with sections, charts, diagrams, and pictures. It includes statistics and observations as if the hipsters were a hardly studied primate society and not just douchebag twenty-somethings that are too smug for their own good. Oops, is my unbiased hate towards hipsters showing again? Oh well, we’re almost down here.

I’m kind of torn on this book. On one hand, it’s about hipsters and I hate hipsters (at least, the hardcore ones) so reading this was a bit of a chore. On the other hand, it’s about mocking hipsters (I love doing that) so that made me want to keep reading. It was all very conflicting. Now that I’ve finished the book and am reviewing it, the charm of mocking hipsters has worn off–and quickly!

My final thoughts on Stuff Hipsters Hate are that as far as this blog-to-book goes, Stuff Hipsters Hate is average. Two stars out of five stars at most. I got some laughs from this book, and it was a pleasant surprise how unblog-like this book was, but like any online blog/forum/Tumblr page etc., it is way better in small doses on the internet, not ‘I’m going to sit and read for a few hours’ portions. Especially since the topic is hipsters and haven’t we all had enough of this ridiculous trend yet?

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Nowhere Fast: A Bleak Steampunk Story About a Future That’s Bound to Happen

A Review By: Amelia
Steampunk is a personal passion of mine. I love the mythology that authors have created over the years all wrapped around the thought of Victorian age machinery that never was. Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories is a book that I was instantly drawn too for this reason.

Steampunk! is an anthology of fourteen short stories that all have something to do with a steampunk world. Nowhere Fast, by Christopher Rowe, was one of those stories and, although not my favourite story in the book, it’s one that really resonated with me as it’s a story of what might the world become when oil runs out.

The author of Nowhere Fast is Christopher Rowe, a writer whose short stories have been nominated for awards such as World Fantasy, Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Sturgeon–all of which are awards for fantasy pieces, so when this guy sits down to write a steampunk story, he knows what he’s doing!

There are a host of characters introduced in the span of this short story but the main characters (which represent the main themes of the piece) are Luza, a teenage girl that wishes to explore the world, Fizz, a teenage boy that wishes to change the world, and Luza’s father and the Federals (the story’s equivalent to the military), that are scared and opposed to the world changing. The story doesn’t present a lot of character development within its thirty or so pages, but I don’t think it was supposed too. The characters–as I stated above–represent an idea more than they do characters that we’re supposed to think are living, breathing beings.

The location of the story is Kentucky in the not so distant future (it’s never said exactly what year it is, but it’s sometime past the year 2050). The world has run out of oil so things like plastics and cars have ceased to exist for years and years. Going any distance is an arduous task, so no one goes anywhere anymore except the Federals which have steam powered machinery. The United States has no federal government and any cities or towns of reasonable size have become their own sovereign states. It’s an interesting concept because although the world isn’t in a completely feudal state, it’s still a world divided.

In an anthology of steampunk stories, Nowhere Fast doesn’t quite fit. It has steampunk elements: coal powered horses, Da Vinci inspired flying machines, and a world built on recycling and reusing. At the same time though, it’s more a story of a bleak future. Whereas steampunk–true steampunk–is about a past in which steam powered machinery is an advancement, Nowhere Fast is a story where steam powered machinery is the only option: it’s not an advancement, it’s in fact a hindrance. It’s a nice twist on the usual steampunk trope.

My final thoughts on the short story Nowhere Fast are that it is bleak. Maybe it’s not supposed to be as bleak as my mind as made it out to be, but–even if it isn’t–it’s still bleak. It’s a story that’s telling us we need to find other ways to live our lives because oil isn’t going to cut it for much longer. It’s not the best, or the most steampunk story in the anthology, but it’s compelling and completely worth it all the same.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Fruits Basket: I Hope You Don’t Have A Weak Heart, ‘Cause This Adorable Manga Could Stop It!

A Review By: Amelia
I personally believe that the root of all cuteness in the world, stems from three things: smiling babies, cats, and Japanese manga. When I sat down to read Fruits Basket, I had no idea that my theory would be confirmed nearly a thousand times over!

Fruits Basket is a twenty-three volume manga about a family cursed by the Chinese zodiac. The curse manifests itself when the cursed person is hugged by someone of the opposite sex and the cursed person turns into an animal from the zodiac! The family deals with it in stride, but when a naïve teenage girl begins living with three of the cursed males of the family, crazy shenanigans ensue!

The author and artist behind the whole of the brilliant series Fruits Basket is Natsuki Takaya who has wanted to be a manga artist since she was in first grade. When Fruits Basket’s twenty-three volume run was complete, Takaya had written and drawn the top selling shōjo manga in North America and the second best selling in Japan.

There are a multitude of characters that appear throughout the twenty-three volumes, but if you narrow it down to characters you consistently see from volume-to-volume, there’s about a dozen. Narrow it down to characters in nearly every panel and you’re left with Tohru Honda, and Kyo and Yuki Sohma. Tohru is the kind-hearted, sweet, selfless, albeit a little naïve girl who, after a series of unfortunate events, has nowhere to live. Yuki and Kyo are the constantly fighting cousins who are two of thirteen people possessed by animals of the Chinese zodiac that Tohru comes to live with and share all kinds of wacky adventures! The characters are all very different and all very fleshed out with different personalities. They’re funny and unique and although some of them aren’t the kindest characters, they have their reasons for being unkind and it makes them all the more human.

The art style in Fruits Basket is a cutsie, quasi-realistic style. I say quasi-realistic because although the characters are drawn with correct human portions it’s still manga so characters’ eyes are huge, the boys androgynously sexy, and everyone has such beautiful and perfect hair it’s enough to drive someone mad! Aside from going crazy over the impossible hair standards though, the art style is really fitting to the story. Everything’s cute and cuddly: the characters’ expressions, their over-the-top reactions, the animal transformations–just everything is neat, crisp, and just so darn cute!

All in all, Fruits Basket is a great experience. It’s a ridiculous concept for a manga–I’ll be the first to admit that–but as it comes together, the story and characters, it’s an amazing experience. There’s romance and fantasy, humour and genuine emotion. The art is adorable and the story line even more so. I really can’t get enough of this manga and it has great re-readability.

My final thoughts on Fruits Basket are that you need to read this manga. Like, right now. It is so cute, so touching, and so SO funny. Tohru’s reactions to the family transforming into animals is enough to bring me back to this manga time and time again!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Ju-On: J-Horror Fiction at Its Absolute Best

A Review By: Amelia
I love to read scary stories: give me a good horror novel and I’m set for days! There’s just something about horror novels that appeal to all of us–they convey chills in written word better than any horror movie ever could and reading them by yourself, at night, is always a terrifying experience! Ju-On, although a novelization of a movie, is a greatly crafted horror novel and shouldn’t be overlooked if you’re longing a good thrill.

Ju-On, by Kei Ohishi, is a Japanese horror story of a murdered woman named Kayako come back as a vengeful ghost who curses all who dare to enter her house (the place where she was viciously murdered). The story is told out of order as different characters enter into it and time jumps around. The main living character is Rika, a woman who has become cursed by entering the house as a social worker. She races against time and the every strengthening curse as she tries to solve the mystery surrounding the house and save herself from a gruesome death.

What makes this story so interesting is that the ghost can go anywhere so long as there’s a cursed person for her to follow. Anyone who steps into Kayako’s house is cursed, they go about their daily lives as the curse manifests around them, and Kayako comes to claim their lives. This leads to some interesting and horrifying places where you think you’re safe, but the ghost can get you anyways. An example of this is when a character locks herself in her apartment and hides under her covers only to discover that the ghost is under there with her!

In my wrap up, I simply must say that Ju-On is what all horror stories should be and that, dear reader, is simple. The simpler, the scarier. There’s nothing in this book but a ghost story. Some readers might be put off by the fact that it is a novelization of a movie and not the original work, but the author, Kei Ohishi, does a wonderful job expanding the characters, highlighting the tension, and adding in extra creepy bits that have nothing to do with Kayako and her curse but add to the overall atmosphere and dread of the ghost story.

My final thoughts on Ju-On are that it is a great horror story because of how plausible it all is. It’s not over the top or complicated–it’s just a good, old fashioned ghost story–and it’s scary as all hell. I highly recommend this book to horror aficionados and causal fright seekers alike!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Ghost World: A Supposed Voice for My Generation That I Just Couldn’t Stand

A Review By: Amelia
Do you ever read something just because other people say it’s great? Enlightening? The voice of a generation? Well, I normally don’t. I don’t buy into hype but with Ghost World I did. It’s a graphic novel that’s been on the market for years and years, and people keep reading it and telling everyone who hasn’t read it how wonderful it is and I decided that I would finally read it so I could be one of the people who love it… unfortunately, I don’t love it. I don’t even like it! And here’s the review to tell you why.

Ghost World is a graphic novel about two unlikely best friends that live in a small town and face growing up and growing apart. They speak like real teenagers do (at least according to the thirty somethings from major magazines that originally reviewed it), they act like real teenagers do, and they bored me half to death… just like real teenagers do!

The author of this rather non-entertaining comic is Daniel Gillespie Clowes. He’s an American cartoonist and screenwriter. Much of Clowes's work first appeared in his comic book Eightball, which anthologized self-contained serialized narratives. These stories have been collected and published as graphic novels, such as Ghost World and David Boring.

There are two main characters in Ghost World: Becky and Enid, and neither one are really all that likely. They’re two disillusioned, bitter, miss-matched, constantly complaining/bitching/judging friends who live in a small town and hate pretty much everyone and everything. Think Daria and Jane from MTV’s cartoon Daria, but without the humour, passion, intelligence, and all-around charm that the television show presented us with. Becky and Enid don’t really show any character growth and by the end of the comic (which comes fairly quickly thanks to only having eighty pages) you’ll be more than happy to have these two characters done and over with.

I wish I could say something nice about the art style here since I can’t say anything nice about the plot
or characters of the piece, but I just can’t. The art style is drab with black and white lineart with light blue for any shadowing. It has unappealing character design, locations without any detail, and facial expressions that make you cringe and laugh all at the same time.

Ghost World is a graphic novel I guess I just didn’t get. There wasn’t one thing I liked about this comic. There was little to no plot, the dialogue was painful to read, there was no character development, and the art wasn’t anything sensational.

My final thoughts on Ghost World are not kind thoughts. I didn’t think it was funny, insightful, or the quote-unquote voice of a generation. The comic is only 80 pages long, and only takes about forty minutes to read, but honestly, don’t waste your time. I know a lot of people will disagree about everything I’ve just said, but this is how I feel–Ghost World isn’t that great! It’s not even good!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Escape from Camp 14: A Chilling Memoir From A Hardened Survivor

A Review By: Amelia
In the year 2013 it seems almost unthinkable that human cruelty to other humans could be at such an all-time high. There’s constant strife in the Middle East and Africa, senseless gun violence in America, homophobic riots in Russia–the list goes on and on. In the last few years, North Korea has moved progressively higher up the list of human rights violations as we learn more about the mysterious, closed border country. Much of this is in due to journalist sneaking into the country or by defectors writing about their lives there. Escape from Camp 14 is one of those books.

The plot of Escape from Camp 14 is two thirds a biography about Shin Dong-hyuk and one third brief summaries on North Korean culture, politics, prisons, work camps, international and pretty much everything else about North Korea, which–for me at least–was brand new information. The author does an astounding job presenting it all and it’s obvious he knows what he’s talking about.

Blaine Harden is an author and journalist who reports for PBS Frontline and contributes to The Economist. He worked for The Washington Post as a correspondent in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, as well as in New York and Seattle. He was also a national correspondent for The New York Times and writer for the Times Magazine. All in all, he’s got some impressive news reporting experience under his belt. He was in South Korea trying to enter North Korea when he met the man whose story this book tells: Shin Dong-hyuk.

Shin Dong-hyuk is the boy soul who this book revolves around. He was born into Camp 14–the harshest and cruellest prisoner camp in North Korea–after having been bred between two other prisoners by the guards. He lived a hard life of forced labour, too little food, and untrusting of all those around him. He knew so little of everything that he didn’t realize there was a world outside the electric fences of the camp. Only when he met a prisoner that had lived outside the camp did he begin to dream of the outside world and of his escape.

Harden created a very compelling book. Shin’s story is really an ingenious way to inform the Western world about the mysterious, secretive, politically backwards, harsh, and dangerous country of North Korea. It’s a biography of misery that seeks to enlighten and teach and show the world that something needs to be done.

My final thoughts on Escape from Camp 14 are that it is a very eye opening book. I knew North Korea was trouble before reading this piece, but I wasn’t aware to what extent. They’re working their citizens to death in forced labour camps. They’re even going to the extreme of breeding prison camp babies for more labour and more poor souls to beat and abuse for ‘the sins of their parents’. If the upper class of North Korea is willing to do the things they did to Shin to hundreds of thousands of their own people, imagine what they’d do to everyone else if war ever broke out. It’s a truly scary, eye opening book about the state of the country and their place in the world.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Book of Blood: The Beginning of Clive Barker’s Horror Dynasty

A Review By: Amelia

It’s always gratifying to read an author’s first works and discover that they were as good back then as they are now. One such author is Clive Barker and his superb breakthrough piece Books of Blood.

Books of Blood were Clive Barker’s breakout in the horror world. They’re his manifesto. They’re what established him as one of the goriest, creepiest, sickest horror writers to ever but pen to paper.  The Book of Blood is the first story and, what might be considered a prelude or prologue, to the overall series Books of Blood. It’s a short story to explain, in a way, how the other stories came to be told and written down.

There are two characters in this short story, an academic woman who is in a supposedly haunted house to study it, and a man who is masquerading as a medium for an easy pay cheque. The woman is convinced the house is haunted because the fake medium is putting on a very convincing show. Of course, when the house actually turns out to be haunted, the medium becomes the book of blood upon which all the gory stories of the restless dead are written.

As far as horror stories go, Barker is the master. He loves his gore, he loves his violence and he loves his weird and creepy sexual situations. Although you won’t get all these in The Book of Blood short story, you’ll get it all within Books of Blood series, and with the prologue story being so good, there’s no way you can resist reading everything else this series of short stories has to offer.

My final thoughts on The Book of Blood are that it’s an awesome story. On its own, sure, it’s not all that much, but as the prelude to all the stories that are encapsulated among Books of Blood series, it’s brilliant. Barker found an ingenious way to connect all his stories even though the only thing they have in common is horror, blood, and death. He created his horror manifesto and the beginning of his horrifying career within The Book of Blood and all fans of Barker, of horror, of good fiction in general, should check it out.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

xxxHolic: The Title Is Confusing, But Bear With It For A Great Manga!

A Review By: Amelia
I’ve always been unhealthy obsessed with the supernatural. Ghosts have always fascinated me. Of course, with ghosts and spirits the subject matter is usually pretty heavy where I prefer light-heartedness and humour. With xxxHolic, they strike a good balance of horror, drama, and humour.

xxxHolic is a nineteen volume manga that follows a group of rag-tag, strange, social outcast, supernaturally-gifted people as they solve bizarre situations with more bizarre solutions. The creators of xxxHolic are a group of female Japanese manga artists that named themselves CLAMP. They formed in the 1980s and had upwards of 11 members at any given time. Nowadays, they’ve thinned out to four members: Nanase Ohkawa provides much of the storyline for the works and Mokona, Tsubaki Nekoi, and Satsuki Igarashi are the three artists whose roles shift for each series. CLAMP has written many notable manga series including the very popular Cardcaptors series.

Yuuko on the left, Watanuki on the right
The main characters of this manga are Watanuki, a teenage boy who has the ability to see and communicate with spirits and Yuuko who is a physic/mystic who owns a gift-granting shop. There’s also a few secondary characters: Himawari, who is Watanuki’s love interest, Doumeki, who Watanuki dislikes strongly because he thinks he’s trying to steal Himawari, Mokona, who is a small cat/rabbit-like creature who’s a smart-ass and always hungry, and Maru & Moro, who are twin spirits who live at Yuuko’s shop.

An example of the art
The art style of xxxHolic is some of the best I’ve seen. It’s very, very stylized with the human characters having unnaturally long and thin limbs and wild expressions, and that might put some readers off, but that highly specialized style looks amazing on the supernatural characters. All the characters are cute and good-looking but all the attractiveness does get a little boring as background characters just become cookie-cutter replicas of good-looking nobodies.

All in all, xxxHolic is something really special. It’s a supernatural drama piece that doesn’t disappoint in its horror or its humour. The characters are likable and funny, the artwork is unique, and with nineteen volumes in the first series, you’ve got more than enough for hours of manga enjoyment.

My final thoughts on Clamp’s xxxHolic are that it’s wonderful. It’s my favourite manga. It’s hilarious: Watanki’s reactions are enough to leave you giggling for hours all on their own. It’s a chilling and creepy with some of the supernatural terrors they introduce being truly scary. It’s touching and sweet, as this strange collection of characters do care for each other and have very sweet and tender moments. This is just an all-round great manga and if you haven’t read it or aren’t even considering reading it, you’re doing yourself a great injustice!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Fall of Giants: The Possible Fall of Ken Follett?

A Review By: Amelia

Historical fiction is probably my favourite genre of fiction. Taking something that’s actually happened and putting new people in it just appeals to a history nerd like myself, and, honestly, there’s no better historical fiction writer than the fabulous Ken Follett.

Follett, for the uninitiated, made a name for himself pretty earlier on in his career with his knack for World War II thrillers but has, on occasion, written books outside of those perimeters. Fall of Giants is one of those books. Unfortunately, Follett may have gotten in over his head with Falls of Giants, and, in this review, you’ll learn why.

Fall of Giants is a massive, epic of a novel that covers the first thirty years of the 20th century through the eyes of five families from different social backgrounds and different countries. We, as the readers, watch the families deal with important issues like worker’s unions, women’s rights, the First World War, and the beginning of the depression.

The Century TrilogyFall of Giants being book one of three–follows five families and this is where Follett really let me down. He usually has such strong, well-rounded characters, but in Fall of Giants he’s so concerned with what’s happening in the countries around the characters and not the characters themselves. As an example, the Russian family (two brothers named Lev and Gregori) deal with things like a corrupted royal family and poverty because they’re Russian. Sure one of the brothers is selfless and believes in Russia and one of them is selfish and cares only of money and sex and that’s about it. Follett does nothing to expand on them to make them likable. It’s the same deal with the other four families: an American family from old money, a British family from old money, a Welsh coal mining family, and a German family from–you guessed it–old money. It’s like Follett is trying to create some kind of allegory with his characters instead of just writing characters! 

The locations in this novel are just as flat and lifeless as the characters. What happens within the countries are things that actually happened in history and Follett is usually a great writer with history but that’s when he’s focusing on one main character. All the history in all the countries with all the characters is overwhelming and often just plain boring. Take for example the years of World War I. Some of the characters fight in it and it’s interesting–Follett writing about war always is–but when it switches over to a character who is not fighting in the war but instead campaigning for unions or running a night club, who cares? It takes away from the action and romance and the sex–which means it takes away everything Follett is renowned for!

Follett could have done something really awesome with Fall of Giants, but I think he got a little over eager. He dove head first into a story that’s too much–too much for him or for any other author for that matter. There’s too much history happening all at once and too little character development too support it all.

My final thoughts on Fall of Giants are that it’s a jumbled mess of information and characters only partially developed. It really frightens me that Ken Follett–one of my all-time favourite authors–might be losing his touch! Don’t get me wrong, the book is still well written compared to some other authors out there, but by Follett’s usually high standards, it falls way short.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Joker: A Disturbing Take on a Super Villain Who Is Already Pretty Disturbing

A Review By: Amelia

Joker has always been one of the greatest–if not the greatest–superhero foe. He’s a madman with no regard for human life but he does it with a smile and usually, a ridiculously over the top plan to cause absolute chaos. What makes Joker such an interesting case study for comic fans and comic writers alike is that he doesn’t have to be over-the-top, and to make him more grounded is to make him more terrifying. That’s what drew me to read and review Joker.

Joker, written by Brian Azzarello and illustrated by Lee Bermejo, is a comic book that is entirely about a realistic Joker in a realistic Gotham. Joker stays the same, but his methods are more grounded–more real world gangster–than what we’ve seen of Joker before.

Azzarello and Lee have worked together a few times and their notable work within the DC Universe (aside from Joker) is Lex Luthor: Man of Steel which is a noir/pulp take on why Lex Luthor feels he needs to be a constant foe to Superman. Azzarello and Lee both have gritty styles that suit each other perfectly, and their comics are always intricately written and drawn.

The characters in Joker include Joker (duh), Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, and Two-Face, with a brief (and I
mean really brief) appearance of the Dark Knight in the last few pages of the comic. Surprisingly though, the story isn’t out of the perspective of any of these characters. The story comes courtesy of a low-level criminal named Johnny Frost that has the good luck (or bad depending on how you look at it) of becoming Joker’s right hand man. Having a new character weigh in on what’s happening around him is a really intense experience. He believes working for Joker will be a good thing, but as the story wears on and Johnny sees Joker for what he really is, that shiny veneer begins to fade and Johnny, along with readers, begin to see the Joker in a new light–no easy feat for a character with as many stories as Joker.

The characters are also given a small tweaking to make them more original to the writer. As an example, usually talkative Harley Quinn is silent: she never utters a single word throughout the whole comic.

The art style in Joker is gritty and realistic. There’s a lot of shadows, and a lot of sharp, square angles. For close ups, Bermejo softens his style and the sharp angles are replaced by smooth, regular features while the colours, that are stark and/or lacking in most panels, are more plentiful and blended together. Overall, the colour scheme is drab, but the excessive details–especially in clothing and cars–make up for the subdued colour palate.

Joker is a great comic book. It shows the crime in Gotham like crime in the real-world and that’s something you don’t usually get in comic books. Joker’s still bat-shit crazy, but also has his moments of weakness, and that’s also something that’s fairly original. The art style is unique and beautiful in it’s sharp-edged, drab colour way and the story is fantastic.

My final thoughts on Brian Azzarello’s Joker are that it is a terrific comic book. Read it more than once to really get it and let your mouth water at the art style. Keep in mind it’s incredibly violent and for mature audiences only, but for me, that only added to the charm. In Joker, Azzarello showed what Gotham would be like in the real world and it’s disturbing, but more than compelling enough to read this comic book over and over again.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Monuments Men: History, Art, Nazis – It’s Three, Three, Three Books in One!

A Review By: Amelia
It’s amazing the things we–as a collective people–have never really thought of before and The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel is one of those things. World War II was some of the worst destruction that the world had ever seen before and miraculously, the artwork survived. Why? Well, a little known group of highly educated, extremely brave men named the Monuments Men are to thank, and within the four-hundred pages of the book, you’ll discover that they didn’t receive half the thanks they should have!

The book follows the Allied group known as the Monuments Men as they raced against time and behind enemy lines to find, retrieve, and save as much Nazi stolen and relocated art from destruction as they could. It focuses on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day and follows the accounts of six of the Monuments Men and the seemingly impossible task of saving the world’s art from the Nazis destruction.

The plot of this book is all about art and how it ever survived the ferocity of World War II’s fighting and Nazi looting. At the same time that Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world and eradict the Jewish race from the face of the Earth, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe for Hitler’s and his highest officers private art collections. The Nazis were painstakingly cataloguing art that Hitler planned to display in his Fuehrer Museum in Lintz but also destroying modern art that they considered ‘degenerate’ art. 

To stop the cultural destruction of Europe from reaching the level of devastation that Hitler intended to reach, American museum directors, Canadian art historians, British curators–and anyone else educated in fine art, were to travel through Europe and save what they could. Their searches lead them from France, to Belgium, to Germany, and back to France. They found huge art warehouses in semi-collapsed mines, Austrian castles, and German basements. They were helped by employees of the Louvre, as well as members of the Nazi party that didn’t want to see the art come to harm.

The Monuments Men is such a wonderful non-fiction book. Edsel writes facts and dates in such an elegant way it almost makes you believe that you’re reading fiction. He goes inside the characters head and writes about what they’re thinking after he painstakingly went through personal letters and diaries of the men who worked so hard to preserve the culture of a war-torn Europe. Without what they did, looting would have run rampant, priceless works would have been stolen or destroyed. Art as we know it would have changed forever!

My final thoughts on The Monuments Men are that it’s an interesting book. It’s written elegantly and contains a lot of facts that I’d never heard before. Everyone knows the stats of how many people were killed in World War II and of Hitler’s hellish policies and practices, but a vast majority of us know hardly anything of the tireless efforts of the Monuments Men. This book remedies that and everyone with even an inkling of interest in history, World War II, or art should pick of this book and learn something new. 

Saturday, 10 August 2013

All My Friends Are Dead: One Story, Two Minutes, Hilarity Ensues

A Review By: Amelia

When looking for my next short story to review, I will admit that I kind of left it until the last minute. I didn’t really have any time at all to settle down, read, and take notes on a short story like Heart of Darkness, which, although a fantastic story is way too long. This is where All My Friends Are Dead came in and my god, what a life saver of a short story!

All My Friends Are Dead is a dark comedy short story written and illustrated by Avery Monsen and Jory John. The story consists of just over three hundred words spread over ninety two pages. It’s a short story about how, well, how an assortment of characters’ friends are dead. Although not everyone’s friends are dead, some are missing, or obsolete, or expired, or have scurvy.
The illustrations that go along with the three hundred words of texts 
are simple doodles with basic colouring. They go perfectly with the story – simple drawings, simple plot, simple concept.

My final thoughts on All My Friends Are Dead is that it is cute, weird, and funny and comes off in a very spoken-word poetry kind-of-way. It makes me feel like I should be in a smoky coffee shop listening to a guy emote poorly on a stage made of milk crates. It’s an interesting little story that I suggest anyone who has a couple of minutes to spare check out.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Princess Resurrection: Fight Off Evil With a Smile

A Review By: Amelia
Werewolves, demons, monsters, vampires. All these ferocious creatures are afraid of the same thing: the beautiful Princess Hime, an awesome warrior who fights off the forces of evil with a chainsaw and a smile. Not only does she look great in a tiara, she has magical powers that allow her to raise the dead. She’s a girl on a mission, and with the help of her undead servant, an overly aggressive yet feminine werewolf, a sexy vampire with a taste for virgin blood, and a super cute robot maid, there’s no creature of darkness she can’t take down!

So begins Yasunori Mitsunaga’s manga Princess Resurrection, a manga series about a warring royal clan in a magical kingdom that has been in steady decline for the last couple of eons. As their own world slips away, the royal children move their epic battle to the human world and they bring their monstrous (literally) assassins with them. Princess Hime is part of this warring royal family and, if it were up to her, she wouldn’t be fighting for the crown of her kingdom because she just doesn’t want it. Unfortunately, the rest of her siblings do and they send all manner of horrible monsters after her to get her out of their way on their violent quest for the crown.

Princess Resurrection is currently an ongoing manga series with sixteen volumes published in Japan and seven volumes translated into English. Each volume is divided further into about five chapters with their own independent storylines, each about Hime’s misadventures in the human world. Each chapters within each volume follows a ‘monster of the week’ formula where a new foe will appear with its own miniature storyline and, by the end, will inevitably die by Hime’s hand. Later on in the series it’s revealed that there’s been an arching storyline that has been intersecting with Hime’s storylines all along, but that’s a review for another day.

The art in Princess Resurrection is your general manga art style: big eyes, bigger busted, blonde haired, petite females in black and white line art. Now, that being said, just because the art is nothing surprising or completely original, it is beautifully rendered and the lines are crisp and neat which displays the talent of Mitsunaga nicely and often shows that less is indeed more. Panels are intensified with details during dramatic scenes and stripped of almost all details during a comedic one. The author/artist also has an interesting style for drawing fight sequences. Mitsunaga figured that as the whole manga series involves Princess Him continually fighting horrible monsters that drawing all these constant battle scenes would be, well, exhaustive. So instead of continuously drawing extremely detailed fight panels, the battle panels include close up shots of the two (or more) fighting and the backgrounds are simple lines. Aside from making the artist’s job easier, these lines are actually quite ingenious as they convey a sense of urgency and rapid movement that solid and detailed backgrounds just wouldn’t.

Mitsunaga definitely create an interesting manga when he wrote and then penned Princess Resurrection. You’ll find yourself laughing at and cheering for the rag-tag group of misfits that play the protagonists as they fight for their lives in their ridiculously epic quest to survive. The art style may not be overly striking or dramatic, but a few clever tricks help it to pop and the original and fantastic plot will keep you intrigued if the art doesn’t.

My final thoughts on Princess Resurrection is that it’s incredibly entertaining. Every once in a while a story comes along that is, for lack of a better word, fun. You’re embroiled in the story from beginning to end for no apparent reason other than it is fun. This fun has nothing to do with a complicated plot that you have to keep reading to even remotely understand what’s going down or characters so in depth they their lives become yours, it just simply is. I found myself wanting more and more of Princess Resurrection because it put a smile on my face. I find that the more repetitive media in the current day and age gets (pardon the cliché), the harder and harder it is to entertain the populous, so why not smile when Hime swings a chainsaw around because an invisible man is after her or laugh when the maid’s ample breasts are constantly given the caption ‘bouncy bouncy’? There’s nothing wrong with loving something just because it’s absurd, outlandish, or just plain silly, and if Princess Resurrection is anything, it’s silly. I give it a high rating for being simply and strange but still amazingly fun to read.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Coldheart Canyon: Sex, Ghosts, Movie Stars, and Violence, Not Necessarily In That Order

A Review By: Amelia
Ghost stories are probably the oldest genre when it comes to fiction but why are ghosts always average people who’ve come back from the grave for some extraordinary reason? Why have we never heard a story of Marilyn Monroe’s ghost and how she moans and shrieks in the mansion she died in? Why have we never feared that we’d bump into Humphrey Bogart’s wandering spirit when the sun goes down and we’re left in the dark? Clive Barker must have wondered the same thing when he wrote Coldheart Canyon, a story about excessive celebrity lifestyles and the ghosts that are reaped by the excessiveness.

The story begins in Romania during the 1920s when Romanian-born actress Katya Lupi purchases a unique work of art, a series of sculpted and painted tiles depicting, in a grotesque and obscene manner, the local legend of a Count who is cursed to haunt the nearby wilderness for all eternity. Katya, although she outwardly appears to be an angel and often plays one on screen, is a sexual deviant intent on throwing the wildest orgies imaginable in her Hollywood dream house with all her fellow celebrity perverts in attendance (Rudolph Valentino and Mary Pickford just to name a couple). Obliviously she’s thrilled by the obscene artwork and displays it with pride, and when it’s discovered that there really is magic in the old cursed tiles, Katya becomes just that much more powerful. Fast-forward about eighty years to the year 2000 and enter Todd Pickett’s life: a twenty-nine year old mega movie star who’s already past his prime. He undergoes plastic surgery but something goes wrong and it leaves him more or less disfigured. His agent sends him to Katya’s ‘former’ home in Coldheart Canyon and although secluded and seemingly abandoned Todd soon discovers that Katya and her deviant subjects still hold court.

The first point I’d like to make is that Coldheart Canyon is written in an interesting way. Barker has always had amazing style. He writes in beautiful prose even when describing the most horrific things, and can create worlds and storylines that the rest of us just literally, could never even imagine: and, of course, Coldheart Canyon is no exception. Barker has written it in a linear plot beginning in the 1920s and ending in the 2000s, but he writes it so that you discover the past by what happens in the present. In the first few chapters of the book you discover how the events of the novel unfold, but not why: the why is left until nearly the last few chapters of the book, which is a fascinating twist to the ending of a book that we, as readers, will think we have entirely sussed out by about page two hundred.

Point number two that needs to be made is how disgusting Clive Barker’s mind truly is. Where as horror is the predominant element in many of his other works, sex is the predominant element in Coldheart Canyon. Now, I’m not saying that Barker’s horror isn’t sick and/or twisted, I’m just saying when you write your sex scenes to appear as horror, some perverse shit is going to go down. One particular chapter comes to mind in which Katya is described masturbating with live snails… I’ll leave you to ponder how and, more importantly, why Barker had this imagery bouncing around inside his head.

Now, lets move onto the characters of the novel (as if the above statement isn’t enough to deduce what they’re like!). Barker has always written very strange and scarred characters: Frank, the hedonist main character of the Hellbound Heart, the Barbarossas, a clan of godlike beings from the spanning epic novel Galilee, any of the characters written about in Books of Blood, just to name a few novels worth! Katya and Todd are no exception to Barker’s strange and scarred repertoire. The two of them are characters driven by their inner demons: inner demons that are masquerading as human desire and are sustained by the excesses of their Hollywood lives.

And, of course, if they weren’t messed up individuals by their own accounts, the location – Coldheart Canyon and the dream palace hidden away in secret to host the kind of parties that nobody was supposed to know about – only strengthened their demons and added to their neurosis. Barker created an amazing landscape when he created the canyon. The house is inhabited by the stunningly beautiful/batshit crazy Katya, mistress of the enchanted tiles that are a cursed fountain of youth. The canyon in turn is inhabited by all manner of strange and horrible creatures: ghosts of dead celebrities being the most prominent of these beings. When Todd discovers the house and moves in he only adds to the chaos of the notorious canyon. There is a catch though; I found that without the bizarre characters inhabiting the canyon, the overall story would have lagged; just as the characters without the location would have made the overall story non-compelling.

Overall, Coldheart Canyon is a book that can go both ways: you’ll love it, or you’ll hate it. The characters are fantastically flawed – as that is kind of Barker’s specialty – and they’ll draw you in with their constant debauchery and pitfalls. The location of the forgotten dream-palace is haunting and disturbing but picturesque and peaceful all at the same time and will have you eager to learn about every single inch of the wicked place. The plot of the novel will leave you disgusted and enthralled but the pacing may leave you wanting more. That was my one issue with the novel: it seemed to be about two hundred pages too long. There was a point within the narrative where all loose-ends are tied up and each of the characters are left with their own closure, be it death, heroism, nihilism, etc etc, but then Barker continues to add more where more isn’t really needed. It was almost as if he wrote them as an afterthought – a two hundred-page afterthought – that he paper-clipped to his finished manuscript and then hoped for the best.

My final thoughts on Clive Barker’s Coldheart Canyon are that it is a fantastic read. The characters and locations take you to new and exciting realms of fantasy while one foot stays firmly rooted within a realistic landscape. The story is original and reaches, seemingly, into unknown territory as it deals with ghosts of the rich and famous and how they deal with their afterlives of sex and excess. The pacing may throw you off near the end, but if you power through, it is well worth it as Barker truly is a master of prose and horror. All in all, Coldheart Canyon is an irresistible and unmerciful picture of Hollywood and its demons told with the raw narrative power that have made Barker a worldwide horror writing phenomenon.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Superman Red Son: A Communist Manifesto Starring… Superman?

A Review By: Amelia
I’ve always enjoyed fan fiction, it’s a great way to see a side of a character that wasn’t portrayed in their original story. I think that’s why comics are so appealing to me, it’s writers taking an established character and writing their own take on them; and of all the fan fiction and comics I’ve ever read, Superman Red Son has got to be one of the most original and fascinating pieces of writing I’ve encountered.

The whole premise of Superman Red Son is a whole big what-if question. What if baby Superman’s capsule had landed in Communist Russia instead of Capital America? What if Superman fought on the side of Russia and spread Communism to all reaches of the Earth? What if Batman was a terrorist? What if everything you knew about the DC Universe was suddenly shaken up and flipped onto its head? Well, Red Son by the prominent comic book writer Mark Miller answers all these questions and more within its two hundred or so pages!

The characters are standard for a Superman comic: Superman and Lex Luthor are the main focus, of course their roles are reversed with Superman playing the antagonist and Lex Luthor playing the protagonist (well, not really a straight-and-straight protagonist, but he’s less of an antagonist than Superman is as he is fighting for capitalism, the less of the two evils). Then we have Wonder Woman and Batman playing supporting roles within the Communist drama and, being that the theme is indeed Communism, Stalin plays a very large role within the narrative as he’s Superman’s mentor and father figure.

Love Batman's hat. It's cold in Russia and this is a clever mod of the cowl!
The art style is Red Son is good. Good, not great. It’s a very simple style without a lot of detail. Lines are stark, colours are basic, and, overall, it’s a little… plain. There is detail of course, but it’s not on a decadent level and that is definitely how Miller wanted it. The simple art style showcases what this comic is all about: Communism. The straight to the point art with little to no arbitrary detail suits the plot and theme of the comic perfectly–Communism is all about the basics after all.

Superman Red Son is a breath of fresh air. It has such an original premise–a premise that I’m surprised no one before Mark Miller ever thought of. The art style is a little bland compared to other graphic novels (I’m thinking of Batman: Hush in particular, it’s my favourite and I am a bit biased that all art should be like the art in Hush, but I digress). The art is simple but it’s enough to convey what it wants to convey; anyways, Red Son is all about the plot through and through. It’s intelligent, well planned, and the main focus of this Superman piece.

My final thoughts on Superman Red Son are that it is a graphic novel unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It takes what we know of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman and turns it upside down, but in an amazing way. To see such a reversal of the character’s beliefs and values–especially Batman–is something that all comic book readers need to experience. Not to mention all the little details like how Communist Superman’s ‘secret identity’ is a secret–he’s always Superman, he’s never the working man (although if you know anything about Communism, it’s main focus is the working man, but I digress once again). It’s things like this that add all the nice twists that show just how meticulously this comic was planned. Superman Red Son is a manifesto that all Superman fans–and comic book fans alike–should rally behind.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Dad is Fat: A Comedy Book That I Found More Along the Lines of Horror!

A Review By: Amelia
Jim Gaffigan is a hilarious stand-up comedian who became famous for jokes about food and laziness. He can go off, seemingly forever, on cake and bacon and don’t ever get him started on Hot Pockets! Based on how much I love his stand-up performance, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his book.

Dad is Fat isn’t quite a memoir or autobiography; more a serious of funny essay-like stories that don’t quite have anything to do with the previous chapter but aren’t completely separate either.

Gaffigan goes into great detail about his children and family life within the essays and, well, that’s about it. I do realize that when Gaffigan wrote this book he did it with every intention of only making it about fatherhood, but by about half way through, you’ll want him talk about anything else. Seriously, anything else at all! There’s only so many times he can say how terrible everything is and then add ‘just kidding–I love my kids and they’re great and you should all have kids too’ (that’s not an exact quote, mind you, just how I perceived the whole book).

Dad is Fat is an alright book, which definitely disappointed me because it could have been so much more than it was. I did laugh out loud at a few bits and I absolutely guffawed at more than a few of the pictures and their captions but I found that the funniest bits were the bits I already knew because he’d already used them in his stand-up routine. Not to mention that–although he preaches how wonderful it is to have children–the stories he told of his five children were enough to leave my (already sky-high anxieties about having children) pretty much maxed out all the way through! As a side note, I should point out that I’m terrified of giving birth/having children and, because of this, I found myself unable to get completely into it. A book that was supposed to be funny, actually ended up being more than a little terrifying for me!

My final thoughts on Dad is Fat are that it’s an okay book. Some parts were really hilarious (mostly because of their accompanying pictures), but a lot of it was just reading through his stand up (which is better if you watch him actually perform it) and, although still funny, wasn’t exactly what I was looking for when I picked up this book to read it. I’d say read this book if Gaffigan is completely new to you and his re-used stand-up is still fresh. Even better though, read it if you need a reason not to ever have five children: as if any of us needed anymore reasons than we already have to not have five children!

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Hellbent: The Most Lovely Story Ever Written About Hell

A Review By: Amelia

I’m a huge fan of The Crow; just the fundamental idea alone pleases me on a primordial level. I love the idea of an entity with the power to return a dead person to the world of the living to seek their revenge against those who wronged them. Gives me shivers, you know? So when I stumbled upon a whole book full of fiction based on the idea of The Crow, I could hardly contain myself!

The Crow: Shattered Lives & Broken Dreams is a book of fiction and poetry based around James O’Barr’s The Crow. All the stories within the book are one-shots and have no connection to one another but all have something to do with the themes of The Crow (death, rebirth, revenge, etc etc). The particular story I’m reviewing today, written by A. A. Attanasio, is about a couple of demons, Dren (the liar demon) and Nergal (the flayer demon) that begin to hear the voice of an angel from deep within the depths of Hell. The angel promises salvation from Hell and Dren and Nergal have to either ignore it, and stay in Hell’s eternal torment, or trust it and hope it isn’t a trick.

The location for 99% of this story is Hell. Not a metaphorical Hell, or a Hell-like place, actual Hell; and amazingly the author describes it beautifully. It’s a barren landscape, icy cold and bleak but within the bleakness, there is incredible beauty. It speaks to the talent of Attanasio that he is able to create splendour out of the depths of Hell.

The themes present within this short story are that of hope, repentance and the idea that you really can change. Unlike other Crow based stories, this is about inner change and not external change (like slaying your enemies for what they did to you, as an example). Dren hears the voice of an angel and suddenly even the lowliest demon in Hell has something to hope for. The voice is offering him a second chance and, although it may be a horrible trick, Dren trusts it and within that trust, and his own willingness to change, he finds salvation from the pit of Hell. It gives me comfort to think that if a demon can find hope from his bleak surroundings, that I can find hope in anything as well.

Hellbent is such a breath of fresh air. Some short stories are about as clear as mud (anyone who took English lit. in university will know that) but Hellbent lays all its cards on the table right away. It’s a story about a soul who has suffered long and hard in Hell and is granted a second chance; it’s a hard story to pull off but Attanasio does with his beautifully written prose. Honestly, if you read this story for one thing, and one thing alone, read it for the prose. Attanasio writes in such a way as to make you feel empathetic for the main character–a demon!–as he struggles to escape Hell–which is bleak and beautiful all at the same time.

My final thoughts on Hellbent are that Attanasio makes Hell beautiful and that is no easy feat! Plot, characters, prose, they all interweave to become a great short story. Of course, what drew me so deeply into this story is that Attanasio took something ugly and made it beautiful and that’s the same thing that James O’Barr did with The Crow (and I’m connected at the soul to The Crow!). Hellbent is truly beautiful and, whether you believe in Hell, demons, or the afterlife at all, it’s a story that should resonate deeply within you because doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance: a chance to repent and grow and change? I think so, and Hellbent has given me the hope that it’s possible for anyone.