Saturday, 27 December 2014

Game of Thrones: It’s a Novel, a Show, and Now It’s... Overkill. Oh, I’m Sorry, I Meant Graphic Novel!

A Review By: Amelia

You’ve read the books. You’ve watched the hit series on HBO. Now acclaimed novelist Daniel Abraham and illustrator Tommy Patterson bring George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy masterwork A Game of Thrones to majestic new life in the pages of this full-color graphic novel. So goes the opening of every synopsis I could find, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s good enough for me. I mean, we all already know about the plot and characters and the overworld of Westeros and the only thing you really need to know about the graphic novel’s overview is that it follows the books super closely and not the HBO series which deviates from the original books greatly.

The original author of A Song of Ice and Fire series is George R.R. Martin. The adaptors of the novels into comic book form are Daniel Abraham and Tommy Patterson. Abraham is an American sci-fi and fantasy writer whose short stories have appeared in numerous publications and anthologies. He’s been nominated for the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award. He collaborates with George R.R. Martin because they both live in New Mexico! Patterson is... well, a comic artist. That was all I could find on him. That and he worked on Farscape comics as well. That’s it. I guess I’ll leave it at that!

From what I’ve seen so far (which is the first three volumes as yet have more to be published) the graphic novels are sticking very close to the books. Of course they’re not as detailed as the books and some things are cut out or rushed through but I understand that–the novels are huge, other mediums don’t have as much time or space in which to explore it all fully. In regards to the characters and their development, with visuals being the medium in a graphic novel instead of words, an artist/writer should be able to convey all the necessary details through the pictures. However, the art style is such that hardly anything is conveyed through the pictures (in regard to the characters) and it still relays heavily on large chunks of text ripped straight from the novel. It’s kind of a cheap stunt if you ask me. The characters come off as stinted in their development and blank and vapid. It’s such a shame considering how amazing Martin made his characters in the books!

Now, to speak more on the art style of Game of Thrones it is a realistic one
(it’s not blocky or angular) and it’s drawn to make the characters look like people in a real landscape. However, I’ve found the bodies and faces to be off. The women are drawn to be sexy and appealing without certain things being taken into account. Take Catelyn Stark as an example. She’s given birth to five children, one of which is fourteen years old, and she’s drawn with her breasts big and firm (so not happening after breast feeding five children) and her face is smooth and wrinkle free like that of a teenager when she’s surely approaching middle age if not already there. It’s all done to make her more appealing to look at instead of staying true to the character that’s written about in the books. It’s standard practice in the comic book but it’ll take you right out of the story and get you thinking about how it wasn’t right she (and mostly every other character) is drawn that way! The facial expressions are also really very poor as every character only ever makes one of two faces: smiling or frowning. There’s no in between. And none of this even covers the colouring which is too bright for my liking. It’s fine for the warmer climates to be bright, but why is Winterfell so shiny? It just doesn’t fit.

The main complaint that I (and most other people on the internet according to what I read) have about Game of Thrones the Graphic Novel are that it’s not adding anything to the mythology of A Song of Fire and Ice. It’s just uninspired art with text tugged straight from the novels slapped on top of it. Although I should point out that I’m fine with the text straight from the novels, overall, it’s the art style kills this adaption for me. It doesn’t work around the story with its bright colours and cutesie faces!

My final thoughts on Game of Thrones the Graphic Novel are to avoid it unless you are George R.R. Martin’s biggest fan in all the universe. The graphic novels can stand alone away from the HBO show and the novels, but they are by far the weakest adaption of Martin’s massive fantasy epic.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

I Drink For A Reason: Maybe It Would Have Been Funnier Drunk…

A Review By: Amelia
In the past few years there have been a lot of stand-up comedians that have written books. Some are absolutely wonderful like (in my opinion) Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Some are less than wonderful like (in my opinion) I Am America by Stephen Colbert. I find that it really depends on the person writing and if they know how to make their usual material work as prose instead of orally delivered. Some do it wonderfully, others don’t. Personally I found that David Cross straddled the line throughout his debut novel.

I Drink For A Reason, as I mentioned above, is written by David Cross. Cross is an actor/stand up comic, his most notable role probably being the never-nude Tobias Funkë from the fabulous television show Arrested Development. As a comic he’s sharp tongued and ever ready to rant and rave about really anything that comes to his mind–including, but not limited too, Jim Belushi ("The Belush"), Fox television network executives, and Bill O'Reilly (all topics covered in his book). I Drink For A Reason is his book debut.

I Drink For A Reason is a series of essays written about everything and nothing all at once. Much like his stand-up, the book is written like a long and nimble rant that details anything from things from his life, solid political commentary, as well as just random thoughts that pop into his head. The funniest part about the whole book (at least by my opinion) is the series of pictures he includes that have nothing to do with him. They're just random pictures of other people and he adds a comment at the bottom of them about what time in his life it was. It was the only part I was constantly laughing at.

I Drink For A Reason is a decent stand-up comic-to-author debut but it’s not quite good enough to stand on its own. If you’ve ever seen David Cross do stand-up, you know when the man is joking. In the book however, you don’t have the visual/vocal cue of when he’s joking and he comes off a lot more serious than he means to be during some parts.

My final thoughts on I Drink For A Reason are that it’s hit and miss: it’s written as a series of essays, so at least hit and miss is on par with other books like this. I found myself laughing at some bits, but bored during most of the other bits. Honestly, it would be better delivered as a stand-up routine, and I do believe that it has been in the past which is probably why it feels a little recycled. All in all, worth it if you adore David Cross; not worth it if you’re just looking for a funny book.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Tsunami!: Lessons and Entertainment All Wrapped Into One!

A Review By: Amelia
When the last major tsunami hit I remember it was big news with the kids I work with. They were just old enough to realize that it was a very serious thing and a very scary thing. Their bedtime routine became a nightmare scene of trying to calm them enough that they’d go to sleep but it was easier said then done. They were old enough to be scared of this natural disaster but not old enough to realize that there wasn’t a giant tidal wave headed for the suburbs of Toronto at that very moment! Did they want to hear facts and statistics about tsunamis? They couldn’t even be bothered to look at the spot on the map that I was pointing to showing where Toronto is compared to the ocean? I figured the only way I’d ever get them to learn anything about them was to haul them to the library and find a picture book. And a picture book, appropriately titled Tsunami!, I found!

Tsunami! is about Ojiisan, the oldest and wealthiest man in a seaside Japanese village. One day, during the rice ceremony, Ojiisan feels something coming that he can’t describe. When he sees the ocean running away from the shore he knows for sure what’s coming: a tsunami! But the villagers below can’t see the danger and Ojiisan has to decide to risk his wealth or risk lives! Pretty tense right?

The author of this tense piece of children’s literature is American/Japanese Kimiko Kajikawa. She was teased as a child for being ‘that slanty-eyed girl’ but instead of letting this get her down, she used her unique perspective to write retellings of old Japanese folklore for an American audience to help spread awareness and culturally respect. The piece is illustrated in collage by Caldecott winner Ed Young, a Chinese-born American illustrator, who has illustrated over eighty books and written close to twenty of them.

Tsunami! is a picture book illustrated in mixed media. Don’t know what mixed media is? It all comes down to an artist ripping apart materials and then collaging it onto a flat surface so that the many different, small bits all become a complete, large piece of art. Mixed media is great for creating depth within the piece but it can also smoother the three dimensional affect if over done or not done correctly, which, unfortunately is what happens in Tsunami!. It’s very hit or miss within the thirty-two pages with landscape shots being a little lack-luster but close-up shots looking really quite lovely. What was really ingenious about using mixed media was the dwarfing affect of using little ripped pieces of paper to become the victims on the far away beach and the violence of the rips and tears of the materials adds to the violence of the ocean’s wave.

Now, since Tsunami! is a kid’s book it’s got a few lessons tacked into it for the kiddie’s sake.
The hero of the piece, Ojiisan, is the wealthiest man in the village and when he realizes a tsunami is coming–and that he’s the only one that knows it–he burns his rice fields to attract everyone from the beach to the top of his mountain to save their lives. It’s a lesson about sacrifice. It shows that although a sacrifice might be hard on you it could help many other people and that’s what’s important. Considering how ruthlessly greedy kids are (trust me I know, I’m a professional nanny) it’s a lesson they could all stand to learn about a little more in their day-to-day lives!

My final thoughts on Tsunami! are that it’s good. The art is a mixed bag of mixed media but the simple and engaging story is both helpful to relay kid’s fears about scary natural disasters and to teach them that a little sacrifice goes a long way. This book is a story that’s a celebration of both the power of nature and the power each of us holds within.   

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Nancy Drew and The Ringmaster’s Secret: Girl Power and Mysteries for All!
A Review By: Amelia
I’ve spent this last year re-reading the Nancy Drew books. Why, you might ask. Well, I spent my childhood reading them and thought that for nostalgia’s sake I’d read them again. So far, I’ve gotten thirty five volumes into the original fifty six and the beloved series from my childhood more or less holds up. This review is for number thirty one in the series and the book I read most recently and very much enjoyed: The Ringmaster’s Secret.

In The Ringmaster’s Secret, Nancy Drew is given a beautiful gold bracelet, decorated with five performing circus horses, with one horse missing. When she learns of the story behind the jewelry Nancy sets out on an adventure that has her joining the circus and searching through the English countryside for the answers she needs to solve it!

Now for those of you who don’t know, Carolyn Keene–the author of the Nancy Drew series–is actually a pen name that was used by many different men and women over the years. Stratemeyer Syndicate, the company that created Nancy Drew, hired a variety of writers and used the pseudonym Carolyn Keene to assure anonymity of the creator! And now you know why I don’t have anything to say about the author–because I just can’t find one!

As you probably could have deduced by yourself (see what I did there? Deduce? Because it’s a mystery series!) Nancy Drew is the main character of the series. She’s an eighteen year old, intelligent, athletic girl that’s always handy to help someone in need. She’s a pretty intense female character given the time period that she came about in, but there are a few flaws to her design. For one, she doesn’t change from book to book: physically, mentally, or emotionally. Nancy’s beliefs never waver, she doesn’t learn lessons or anything about herself that help her grow as a person, she never even ages! She’s always eighteen even though if you take into account all the time she spends on her fifty six different adventures, there’s no way that less than a year passes! None of the other characters ever change either (besides Nancy’s friend George starting to say ‘hypers’ as a catch phrase about twenty five books in)! It comes with–not only–the ghost writers but also because it was a serialization of novels and it was meant for a younger audience. Because of those above mentioned factors the characters take a back seat to the plot.

All that isn’t to say that Nancy doesn’t have her strong points! She’s an independent girl with intelligence, integrity, and empathy. She was actually created by the same man that thought up the Hardy Boys because he thought that young girls should have a strong role model and that’s pretty amazing! Nancy is a character that thinks things through, figures stuff out before anyone else, and always lends a helping hand. Some of her dialogue and especially her father’s dialogue (ex: her needing to be escorted to certain places) might seem a little out of place or sexist, but it’s certainly not often and certainly never a plot point.

Nancy Drew and The Ringmaster’s Secret is an interesting Nancy Drew book. The plot takes Nancy through the daily life of a circus performer and across the Atlantic ocean to England where, up to this point, she’d never been out of North America! It’s also one of her more challenging mysteries and, as always, she does it without becoming discouraged. She’s a kick ass female character considering the time in which she was created and, although no longer one of a kind, she’ll always be one of the first! 

My final thoughts on The Ringmaster’s Secret are that it’s one of my favourite Nancy Drew books. It has its problem of character development in the title character but that comes more from the fact that Nancy was written by ghost writers over a series of years. It has an interesting plot with Nancy joining the circus and the mystery she seeks to solve is a little more relatable with themes of love and loss. So if you’re in the business of mystery solving–on your own or reading to your kids–Nancy Drew and The Ringmaster’s Secret is the book for you!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Ghostopolis: A Delightful Romp Through the Afterlife

A Review By: Amelia
I love thrift store shopping for books. Sure, a lot of what’s there are book-club copies of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (great book), and dog-earred copies of the Twilight series (not so great of books), but sometimes, I find something that I didn’t expect to find in a million years, and that’s always the best feeling. Ghostopolis was one of those books. One normally doesn’t find good graphic novels–or even bad graphic novels for that matter–at a thrift store, so it felt like winning the used book lottery when I stumbled upon a only slightly beat up copy of (what was to become) one of my favourite graphic novels!

Ghostopolis is a story that revolves around two main characters: Garth Hale, a dying teenage boy, and Frank Gallows, a government (quote, unquote) ghostbuster. Garth and Frank’s lives are forcibly mashed together when Frank accidently sends Garth into the afterlife: aka Ghostopolis. 

The author of Ghostopolis is Doug TenNapel. He’s an American animator, writer, illustrator, and musician whose work has spanned animated television, video games, and comic books. His best known work is as the creator of Earthworm Jim that was a videogame, toy line, and cartoon series.

The characters of the piece are Garth Hale, a young teenage boy with an incurable disease, and Frank Gallows, a middle-aged agent of the Supernatural Immigration Task Force, a government partition dedicated to locating ghosts amiss in the physical world and transporting them back to the afterlife, there known as Ghostopolis and separated into different kingdoms: mummies, skeletons, ghosts, etc. Garth, considering he’s dying, is a pretty mellow character. He’s come to term with his illness and is just riding things out and that makes him a pretty interesting character in my books. I found myself constantly thinking about what he might be thinking about. Or how is he feeling inside while he puts on his brave face on the outside? Whether or not the author intended for me to be thinking these things, I was, and it made his character a lot deeper. Frank was also an interesting character. He loves his job, but at the same time, he wants more. He wants to prove himself a hero–to his boss and the women he loves. Who just happens to be a ghost. Yeah. A (quote, unquote) ghostbuster is in love with a ghost. I can’t say much more, but it’s a fascinating (if not slightly predictable) turn of events for ol’ Frank.

The art style in Ghostopolis is a very loose and casual style. That being said, it’s not messy or ugly in any way. It’s as if the artist holds his pens very lightly and lets them go where they please and it is an enchanting effect. The colours are bold and beautiful and the character designs sleek. The landscapes are stunningly detailed and filled with so much to look at. The panels that lack landscape details are shadowed perfectly and, since they’re usually close-ups of characters, the characters are drawn with amazing emotion and detail.

Ghostopolis is a real gem of a graphic novel. It’s got an amazing story filled with complex and well-rounded characters. The art is beautiful, the colours superb. It’s short–maybe only forty-five minutes to read the whole thing–but what’s there is, without a doubt, fantastic.

My final thoughts on Ghostopolis are that you should read it. If you like quirky graphic novels, you’ll like this. Probably even love it. It’s a delightful romp through the afterlife–who could resist that?

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Horrible Histories Series: History Has Never Been So Horribly Entertaining

A Review By: Amelia
A truly 'horrible' series!
History can be a tough subject to get kids (or adults for that matter) interested in. Some people just don’t seem to care what the present world is built upon and, as an avid history lover, I’ve always found that distressing! However, it eases my distress that book series like Horrible Histories exist and are doing well!

Horrible Histories is a rather brilliantly designed series of illustrated history books originally published in the United Kingdom by Scholastic. They are designed to get children interested in history by concentrating on the unusual, gory, or unpleasant events in a tongue-in-cheek manner that highly contrasts to the formality of lessons taught in school. The first titles in the series, The Terrible Tudors and The Awesome Egyptians, were published in June 1993. As of 2014, there are more than 60 titles in the series and the books have sold over 25 million copies in over 30 languages.

The author of all the Horrible Histories is Terry Deary. He’s a former actor, theatre director, and drama teacher that began writing when he was 29. His books are popular among children for their disgusting details, gory but accurate historical information, and humorous pictures. The books spawed a cartoon series and earned Deary an Honorary Doctorate of Education from the University of Sunderland and the Blue Peter Award for “best Nonfiction Author of the Century” in the UK.

Each book–and there are over 60 of them–follows a different culture in certain time period. EgyptGreeceRome, the Tudors, the World Wars–there’s a book for nearly any topic in history you can think of. Each book loosely follows a set pattern. There’s an introduction, a brief timeline of the selected time period, miniature essays about things introduced in the timeline, a quiz to test your knowledge, and an epilogue. Deary knows his stuff and fills out the books with a tonne of information in his small essays. He even includes things like plays, jokes, news stories (from the time), and, of course, all the books have many small comics strewn throughout them.

Deary’s Horrible Histories are a brilliant series. The books of Deary’s series have been widely and often imitated, but never duplicated. The tongue-in-cheek humour is really very refreshing, especially if you think back to your dullest history teacher. In these slim books, history becomes interesting no matter how dull you might have found it before! And with over 60 books to choose from, there’s a time period that fits anyone’s fancies.

My final thoughts on Horrible Histories series are that it should be read by kids and adults alike. There’s a bunch of new facts to be discovered and, c’mon, if we’re all going to be honest with each other, when it comes to history, we’d all rather hear about the gory and gross parts more than anything else!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Little Black Crow: An Adorable Lesson In Empathy

A Review By: Amelia
I have major empathy output for pretty much everyone on Earth. Stray cats on the street? Just thinking about how cold they must get in the winter is enough to bring tears to my eyes. A beautiful tree gets cut down for no reason? I can almost feel the chainsaw myself. A child gets scolded for nothing more than asking a simple question? I nearly foam at the mouth for their squashed curiosity. Honestly, I’m pretty sure that I’m 100% pure empathy. Where did my empathy come from? Where else but from reading! Books are an absolutely amazing way to grow your children’s empathy for those around them but I’ve found that a lot of books nowadays are more concerned with pushing very literal lessons upon children, instead of building a foundation for which their emotions can grow and develop. Little Black Crow was a very pleasant surprise when I stumbled upon it at my local library. It’s a book all about empathy: a real jackpot for me!

Now, what’s Little Black Crow all about? Well, it’s a simple story with simple language and simple pictures about a little boy wondering about a crow he sees flying about. He has general questions about the crow’s life and–you guessed it–empathy for the little creature!

The author and artist of the book is Chris Raschka, an American illustrator and writer. He was the U.S. nominee for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 2012 and Yo! Yes? was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1994. Raschka’s most famous book is his Hello, Goodbye Window, winner of the 2006 Caldecott Medal, and in 2012 he won the Caldecott Medal again for his his book A Ball for Dasiy

Little Black Crow is a little rhyming tale about self-awareness. It’s a series of questions posed to a crow by a little boy who’s wondering about his place in the world and if other animals wonder about that too. It’s a book about wondering and being inspired to ask questions about the little things. Now, since this is a children’s book, there’s a lesson to it but the lesson of the book is included in a very clever way through the boy’s questions. Instead of cramming a lesson in through exposition, it’s subtly slipped into the prose. The little boy asks simple questions to himself about what the crow’s life might be like and in doing so, the story that shows the fun of curiosity and the often misinterpreted need for empathy.

The art style of Little Black Crow is a minimalistic style. The lettering is done with big, thick, black letters and the illustrations are done with in a small selection of hues in simple water colours. It’s done in a doodle like fashion and looks about as a child’s level which is actually brilliant: kids will indentify with it more if it looks like they could create it themselves. It really is a clever way to add in a little more subtly empathy!

My final thoughts on Little Black Crow are that it’s a brilliant little book for kids, or anyone else for that matter! The art style is cute and the story even cuter. It’ll teach children empathy for people and things around them and the more empathy that can be introduced into the world, the better I say!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Hell House: A Hellish Good Time… For a Little While at Least

A Review By: Amelia
Ghost stories are my all my favourite. The Haunting of Hill House is my favourite ghost story ever and since reading it I’ve been searching for another ghost story that will match this truly terrifying book. When I came to Hell House on my ghostly reading list, I was pretty sure I’d found a new favourite. It seemed right up my alley and the author is more or less the defining movement in sci-fi/horror so what’s not to get excited about? Well, as it turns out–wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning with a synopsis of the story!

Can any soul survive? Regarded as the Mount Everest of haunted houses, Belasco House has witnessed scenes of almost unimaginable horror and depravity. But when Deutsch, a wealthy magazine and newspaper publisher, starts thinking seriously about his impending death, he offers to pay a physicist and two mediums $100,000 each to establish the facts of life after death. The group travel to the Belasco House in Maine, which has been abandoned and sealed since 1949 after a decade of drug addiction, sadism, and debauchery and discover exactly why the town folks refer to it as the Hell House.

Above, I mentioned the author being a defining force, and he is! Richard Matheson has been a power house in horror for as long as he was writing. His first short story, Born of Man and Woman immediately made Matheson famous. Between 1950 and 1971, Matheson produced dozens of stories, frequently blending elements of the science fiction, horror and fantasy genres. At the time of his death he’d written well over a hundred works including novels, short stories, and films. Arguably, his most commercially successful work is I Am Legend.

The story of Hell House is, as stated above, the often seen ‘people investigating a haunted house’ story. There’s nothing wrong with taking this angle as long as you’ve got good characters to back it up and Matheson does. The main characters of the piece are four people: Dr. Lionel Barrett, a physicist with an interest in parapsychology, his wife Edith, and two mediums, Florence Tanner, a Spiritualist and mental medium, and Benjamin Franklin Fischer, a physical medium. Fischer is the only survivor of a failed investigation thirty years before and because of this, he’s very closed off and unwilling to use his medium powers. He understands Hell House better than anyone and there’s a great line where he comments to the others: “the Belasco House has never minded having guests” (or something like that, I’m paraphrasing). He knows the house won’t go after him unless he goes after it so he pours himself a drink whenever he can and ignores what’s going on. Of course, that hardly means that he’s being ignored and his deliberate inaction is, of course, his downfall.

Florence, the other medium, is quite the opposite of Fischer. She’s the very definition of eager and seeks to help the spirits trapped in the house and send them to the afterlife. She’s very religious but also very sensual–an interesting mix for a medium/pastor at a church! Of course her over-eagerness is her biggest weakness and, in trying so hard to be right about the hauntings and righteous in her actions, she allows in some very sadistic evil indeed.

The last two characters are Dr. Barrett and his wife Edith. Dr. Barrett is a scientist through-and-through and is arrogant in his disbelief/disregard for spiritualism. He was mostly crippled by polio as a child and the evil in the house plays on not only his physical condition but his staunch scientific belief. Edith, emotionally, is very weak and is prone to anxiety about being alone, ridiculous personal fears and insecurities, and many pent-up desires (all of them sexual since her crippled husband is more or less unable to have sex). She’s toyed with by–you guessed it–all these sexual overtones you keep hearing about. All the characters are pretty fleshed out and seem like real people. They do come off rather exaggerated at times thought but I could never tell if it was just flashy writing or it was because of what the house was doing to them, but honestly, it wasn’t really that big a deal and it certainly doesn’t take anything away from the overall experience.

The location was by far the best part of this novel for me. Matheson creates a dreadful and foreboding location right off the bat with a house that’s seen the absolute worst of the worst, including but not limited to: deviant sex, copious drug consumption, necrophilia, gluttony, cannibalism, disease outbreaks, sadism, murder-for-the-fun-of-it, etc., etc. The windows are bricked up, the power doesn’t work, there’s a church with stained glass depicting nuns being raped and a crucifix with an erect phalli. It’s just a nasty place full of nasty things. What makes the house so very creepy is its ability to corrupt before it destroys. It gets into the minds of those who enter and makes them think and see things to suit its evil needs. The house breaks those who dare enter it by subtly undermining their sanity and that’s always an interesting take on the haunted house genre I find. But where does all this supernatural potency come from? Well, I can’t say without ruining the ending, but it’s a very interesting source indeed. My one qualm with this subtle undermining is that a lot of this evil trickery has strong sexual overtones and, while it makes sense considering the history of the house, after a while it just becomes a bore. There’s only so many times you can see the pure and innocent Edith try and have lesbian sex with Florence before you begin skimming through those parts looking for a scary bit!
Now, all that having been said, the most disappointing thing about Hell House is that it’s ending doesn’t work. I loved the location, the characters all had their place, and the history given about the house is still enough to give me chills. Then the ending comes along. I can’t say too much without giving it all away, but I can say that it gets hectic, crazy, and disgusting near the end but then–after all that setup–the climax isn’t very climactic at all! There’s also a very cringe worthy, put-the-book-down-and-think-about-puppies-to-keep-from-fainting bit near the end involving Florence and that crucifix I mentioned earlier… Normally, I can handle gore in books but that scene… it is just deeply disturbing. Especially for women.

My final thoughts on Hell House are that it’s not the best ghost story, but it is still very much worth a read. It is an expertly crafted and atmospheric location. The characters were also pretty good, albeit a little predictable. What didn’t work for me–and apparently a lot of readers of this book according to other reviews–are the sexual overtones. The house had a history of deviant sexual behaviour, but having every ‘possession’ that happens be about sex? It’s just overkill to me; especially considering how it’s not scary even once! Shocking? Sure, it could be to the right reader. But scary? Pardon the pun, but I’m afraid not. Read Hell House if you’re looking for shock value but look elsewhere if you want genuine scares.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Crow Death and Rebirth: The Crow Lives Once More

A Review By: Amelia

If you’re a follower of Bookworms Unite you’ll know I’ve posted about The Crow before: it’s my favourite comic and movie of all time. Since the success of the first movie though, there’s been a plethora of sequels hoping to cash in and, let’s face it, they’ve all been pretty subpar (I’m thinking of a much worse word but I’m going to reframe from using it lest there are fans for the sequels reading this). The Crow: Death and Rebirth was a comic that I avoided for awhile thinking it was going to go down the same road as the movie franchise, but when I found the complete graphic novel half off at a book store, I thought why not? Surprisingly, I wasn’t disappointed.

The Crow has been reborn: this time in Tokyo. Jamie Osterberg finds his life torn apart when Haruko, his girlfriend, is kidnapped and somehow changed into a different person. As he struggles to find out how and why he himself is killed. Of course, he doesn’t stay dead. The Crow must once more make the wrong thing right—but this time he might have to do it by killing the woman he loves the most...

John Shirley is the author of more than a dozen books, most in the cyberpunk or splatterpunk genre. He’s also written prequels and sequels to videogames and movies including BioShock and The Crow. He’s been the recipient of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award and won the International Horror Guild Award for his collection Black Butterflies. Shirley has also fronted punk bands and written lyrics for his own music, as well as for Blue Oyster Cult and other groups. A principal screenwriter for The Crow movie starring Brandon Lee, Shirley now devotes most of his time to writing for television and film.

The main characters of the piece are Jamie, an American studying in Tokyo, Haruko, his Japanese girlfriend, and the shadowy broad of directors at an unsavoury multi-billion dollar corporation. Overall the cast of characters is varied and interesting, but you learn very little about them throughout the piece. In the original Crow you came to know Shelly and Eric through numerous flashbacks until they felt like characters you’d known all your life. Unfortunately with Jamie and Haruko, you only get the opening of the graphic novel to learn about their relationship and it really doesn’t seem as loving and amazing as Shelly and Eric’s. The same goes with Jamie once he becomes the Crow. Jamie lacks the humanity that made Eric such an interesting serial killing vigilante. It just makes what Jamie and Haruko go through seem flat. It’s got life to it, but the life is a little cookie cutter-esque.  

The art style, like the writing style, in Death and Rebirth is a gritty and dark style. It’s got sharp lines and shadowy, murky colours. Faces are minimalistic and the landscape even more so. It’s an interesting choice since the piece takes place in Tokyo and there’s not an inch of that city that’s not covered in advertisements and neon lights. All in all, the shadowy and dark colouring that’s featured in Death and Rebirth is on par with the original Crow (of course the original didn’t have colour, but that’s beside the point).

My final thoughts on The Crow: Death and Rebirth are that it’s pretty good–it’s no where close to the original because I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the most genuine thing I’ve ever read!–but Death and Rebirth wasn’t trying to be the original Crow (unlike all those horrible movie sequels that tried to cash in on the original’s success). It was a revamp–a rebirth–of the franchise. Although it didn’t hit every mark it attempted to hit, it was still an interesting take on James O’Barr’s mythology. Death and Rebirth  has its own story with its own themes and if you’re a Crow fan, it’s definitely worth looking into.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Party Monster: Murder Has Never Been So Much Fun!

A Review By: Amelia
I often find myself drawn to the darkest, most disturbing, bursting-with-salacious-personal-details of memoirs I can find. There’s just something about a life lived in an impure way that’s so compelling to read about. When I watched the movie Party Monster and then discovered it was based on a book, how could I resist?

Disco Bloodbath: A Fabulous but True Tale of Murder in Clubland re-released under the title Party Monster: A Fabulous but True Tale of Murder in Clubland is a 1999 memoir written by James St. James about his life as a Manhattan celebutante and club kid. The book specifically chronicles his friend Michael Alig’s rise to fame and his subsequent fall after the murder of fellow club kid and drug dealer Angel Melendez.

James St. James (born James Clark) was a club kid of the crazy Manhattan club scene in the late 1980s/early 1990s. He was notorious for a lifestyle of excess that included heavy drug use, partying, and bizarre costumes. St. James was Michael Alig’s mentor in the scene and one of his closest friends leading up to Alig’s murder conviction.

When Party Monster was first published, it was a storm of controversy. Apparently people just weren’t ready for its vivid, striking, often disturbing, and always outrageous depiction of the hedonistic world of New York City’s club kid scene. The book is an inside story of life in clubs like The Tunnel and The Limelight and the drugs, sex, music, and mayhem that existed during the heyday of the New York City club culture written by the man that more or less started it.

That’s only half the story though. The other half of the story revolves around Michael Alig, the gay kid from nowhere special who came to New York and blew up the club scene to the hedonistic levels that they’re known for nowadays. You learn a lot about his character through St. James’ recollections about him, and even though he’d been high through a lot of it, his descriptions are anything but lacking. He was a selfish and semi-sadistic kid who let his sudden fame go to his head. How did all this turn into the murder of a fellow club kid? Drugs of course. When Angel Melendez got angry at Alig for using all his drugs without paying, Alig fought back, killing him in the grisly manner and then dismembering him. From that point to the point of his arrest, Alig told anybody and everybody he could that he had, indeed, killed Angel. St. James says that he was told a few days after the murder while doing drugs with Alig at his apartment.

But while St. James's flashy approach is artful and engaging to this macabre tale of murder, St. James has no sympathy for the victim of the crime. Alig, after being sentenced to up to twenty years in prison is reeling with regret and shame. The closest thing to emotion on display is St. James's obsessive need to document the highs and lows of life with Alig and his own self-pity at the end of his carousing days with him.

All this is told in a stylish and very campy prose of a self-proclaimed rather needy diva and Alig’s best friend. St. James has a way with his words that makes it seem like all this happened just last week and not drug-induced haze years ago. There are funny parts where you can’t help but laugh out loud, and the description of Alig’s murder is gruesome and ghastly to no end. St. James's account of the rise and fall of Michael Alig is, truly, a most unconventional contribution to the body of true crime. Mixing outrageous exploits of club queens with the running commentary of a babbling drug addict, St. James fuses humor and narcotic enthusiasm with pure camp and the result is a flamboyant and engrossing first-person narrative.

My final thoughts on Party Monster are that it’s highly enjoyable. St. James tells two stories: one his own about the club kid life full of all-night parties and uncountable drugs and one of Michael Alig, the maddeningly selfish, mostly crazy murderer that not only made St. James’ life, but also ruined it. His story, despite its gruesome subject matter and frequent, shocking lucidity, has a chatty and anecdotal quality that's compelling, endearing, and human when it comes right down to it. St. James’ comes off as shallow and full of self-importance, but why not? It’s how he’s felt about himself since his club kid days! It’s an entertaining red full of salacious giddiness, queeny commentary, and decadent details. If you’re looking for a fuller account of the Alig/Melendez murder, look elsewhere. It’s an insider’s take on events, not factual accounts. Treat this book as it was meant to be treated: a technicolour-lurid portrayal of addiction, self-delusion, narcissism, and depravity that shows that murder was never so much fun!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Circus Bulgaria: A Strange Look Into Bulgaria

A Review By: Amelia
In a departure of how I usually review only one short story from a collection, this week’s short story review is on a full book of short stories. Why? Circus Bulgaria was a unique short story collection. Each story usually lasted only a little longer than three pages each and I found it difficult to choose just one to write about! All that being said, here are my thoughts on the short story collection Circus Bulgaria.

A boxer-turned-hitman faces an impossible mission to kill his brother; an entirely insane man becomes part of a political rally; a master puppeteer loses her craft for something more profitable; artists are discharged from the army; and a fading beauty is courted by a suitor with suspiciously scaly hands. Circus Bulgaria draws on the monsters and myths of Balkan folklore, the brutal reality of the Communist regime and the magic of the author’s own imagination. The fifty stories included in this collection have a surreal and almost hypnotic quality. Absurd, painfully funny and deeply sad, Circus Bulgaria reaches straight into the bizarre heart of Eastern Europe.

Deyan Enev was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. He graduated from Sofia University, where he studied Bulgarian language and literature and among his various occupations are house-painter, hospital attendant, teacher, copywriter. As a journalist he has published over 2000 pieces with 12 short story collections among those. Circus Bulgaria was long-listed for the prestigious Frank O’Connor English language short story collection contest.

Each story features a set of characters, a plot, and a location that’s completely different from the last (although Eastern Europe is where most of this takes place). Some characters get no dialogue, some aren’t even named, yet what’s really quite remarkable about Circus Bulgaria is that, even though the characters have so few pages we (as the readers) can still empathize with them or villainize them.

Circus Bulgaria is an interesting book. The stories are poignant and quick paced but I did find they ended abruptly or in a way that didn’t make much sense (at least they didn’t seem to make much sense to me). Some held my attention better than others but that’s the case with most short story collections which can be very hit or miss.

My final thoughts on Circus Bulgaria are that it’s fascinating concept but maybe not a book for everyone. With so few pages to work with, each story starts with a bang and usually ends with one too but the lack of set-up information/the abrupt endings might put some people off. However, if you’re a deep reader, that dynamic works very well within this book. So check this book out if you’re looking for something you’ve probably never seen before.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Bloodline: A Decent Sequel to Dracula That Only Took 117 Years To Arrive

A Review By: Amelia

When one thinks of a true Gothic novel, what comes to mind? What about the best vampire to ever stalk the streets in search of blood? What about the most bad-ass vampire hunter to wield a stake and mallet? The answer to all these questions is, of course, the novel Dracula. With so much in Bram Stoker’s masterpiece to love, why did he never write more in the Dracula mythos? I do believe Kate Cary thought the same thing and, to rectify the situation, she sat down and penned the fabulous Bloodline, the unofficial sequel to Dracula.

Bloodline is a continuation of the Dracula mythology with the story of Quincy Harker: a charming, rogue British army officer who has been leading a secret life because he’s a vampire. He seduces an innocent girl by the name of Lily and, when he takes her back to his family’s castle in Transylvania, he lures her older brother to save her. This, in turn, is all part of a much bigger plot involving the cursed bloodline of Dracula.

The author of Bloodline (and its sequel Bloodline Reckoning) is Kate Cary who has also written for the series Warriors under the pen name of Erin Hunter. She’s a fairly unknown author but it hardly matters: she has an elegant and intelligent style that hard to put down once you start: especially with the Bloodline series.

Bloodline has some very interesting characters: some new and some homage to the original Dracula story. Until the last part of the novel though, there are only four characters that you need concern yourself with. John Shaw is the kind-hearted, older brother of Lily Shaw, who is the innocent and naïve soul that Quincy Harker, the charming vampire, has seduced to become his vampire bride. Along for the ride is Mary Seward, a nurse that fell in love with John and wishes to help him save his sister from a grisly undeath. Of these four characters though, Quincy and Mary are the most fleshed out. No disrespect to John and Lily Shaw, but John spends the first half of the book raving mad from his experiences in the First World War, and Lily is just such a weak human being her character is washed out by the more commanding Quincy, who she spends most of the book with.

Bloodline has some great locations within its three hundred and fifty pages. It begins with one of my favourite locations: the trenches of war torn France. The picture of war is painted beautifully with the mud, the vermin, the violence, and gore of the First World War. Moving from the trenches of France is a war hospital in England that used to be an asylum and a gloomy old manor where Lily lives. When Quincy meets her at this gloomy manor, they make their way across Europe before arriving at the imposing and dark castle that Quincy calls his childhood home. They’re great locations that, without over imposing, showcase the characters wonderfully.

Bloodline is a great book written around what could have been a really lacklustre topic. I mean a sequel to Dracula? Who needs that? As it turns out, I needed a sequel to Dracula no matter how non-sequitur it may seem! The characters are genuine, the writing is poignant and on tone, and the locations paint a grim and gothic façade that really bring this unofficial sequel of Dracula to life.

My final thoughts on Bloodline are that this is a great take on the Dracula mythology. It gives us characters that are human, even when they’re vampires and the writing is vivid and powerful as first person diary entries are a great homage to the original Dracula novel. Plus there’s some steamy lesbian vampire sex! Plus being set in World War One is always a big draw for drama, violence, and good ol’ fashioned vampire gore–none of that Twilight ‘I only eat animals’ garbage! All added up and Bloodline gets high marks from me!