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The Doll’s House

Author: Neil Gaiman

The Sandman, vol. 2

My rating: 4.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

After his long absence from the Dream world and his imprisonment in the world of the living, Morpheus returns to Dream to survey his lands, taking stock of those members who are missing and beginning his search for them. Little does he know that some of his younger siblings among the Endless are stirring up trouble for him in secret. Meanwhile, in the human world, Rose Walker is united in England for the first time with her grandmother Unity (a victim of the sleeping sickness that came over so many children for a time) and subsequently returns to the United States to search for her long-lost little brother in hopes of uniting the family. She meets a number of interesting individuals during her search, including Morpheus himself, unwitting that she herself is a dream vortex that he must deal with or risk the destruction of Dream entirely.

Well, I have to say that, although I was not particularly impressed with the first Sandman comic, Preludes & Nocturnes, Gaiman thoroughly made up for the issues I found in that book in The Doll’s House. It made me regret having waited so long to press on with the series. Whereas Preludes & Nocturnes never truly felt like Gaiman’s work, never really set properly (barring that lovely last chapter), The Doll’s House feels throughout like one of his books. It has the right flavor, the right perspectives on things, the right spark that I can’t properly describe; I can only say that it works. The entire volume reads like a novel, having a cohesive plot with multiple, interlacing stories. It also traces back to stories told in the first volume, actually giving them more weight and purpose in my mind. I really loved all the dream sequences that were a part of this book and the way in which they played into the plot. Even more so, I appreciated the way in which the author discussed the ideas of destiny and fate and free will; you would think this theme would be exhausted by now, but it’s something so integral to humanity that perhaps it will always be a pertinent topic. I like Rose’s character as well; she’s got spunk but she’s also kind of broken, and it’s interesting to see that developed. The art is very well done, although still in a very comic-book style that I’m still gradually adjusting to. Fair warning that this is definitely geared for an adult audience and there’s some pretty gristly violence (though not nearly as bad as the first volume) and some nudity here. I definitely enjoyed reading The Doll’s House and am now actually quite looking forward to future volumes of The Sandman in spite of the series’ rocky start.

Covers & Design by Dave McKean/Illustrated by Mike Dringenberg & Malcolm Jones III/Colored by Zylonol/Lettered by Todd Klein & John Costanza

 

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Downsiders

Author: Neil Shusterman

Downsiders, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

In the wake of her parents’ separation and her mother’s latest whimsy (a long-term trip to Africa), Lindsey finds herself shunted off to New York to live with her distracted father and her odious step-brother Todd. Meanwhile, deep beneath that same city, Talon finds himself challenging the precepts and perspectives of his own culture–a people who live beneath the city with their own noble way of life, isolated from the Upsiders whom they view as stupid. And when these two teenagers’ worlds collide, the result is staggering . . . possibly even devastating to both worlds.

Shusterman is one of my favorite authors, as is pretty obvious just from this blog. His books have such a different way of viewing things; they’ve very unique. Downsiders is true to his norm in that it’s quite different from anything I’ve ever read, but it’s also pretty different from any of Shusterman’s other writing. While there are aspects that are similar, I’m not sure I could have picked him out as the author if I hadn’t known. The pacing, while great for this story, is slower than in a lot of his books, and there just isn’t quite as much spark . . . I don’t know how else to put it. Also, the flavor is almost–I want to say Dickensian, but that’s not quite right–it’s as close as I can get to describing it, in any case. Still, while all that sounds kind of negative, I did actually enjoy this book. The concept of a complete, isolated culture living in the abandoned tunnels and forgotten structures beneath New York City is fascinating, and the actual development of this culture in the book was well written. The characters were also believable, and the choices and changes they went through during the course of the story felt true, honest–and important to us as readers because of that. The ending, largely due to those decisions being honest choices not fairy-tale ones, is both beautiful and bittersweet; the story is better for its being so. I wouldn’t recommend Downsiders for everyone, but if you’ve got the patience to dig into it, this book is a rewarding read.

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I Hunt Killers

Author: Barry Lyga

Jasper Dent, vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Seventeen-year-old Jasper Dent (better known as Jazz) did not have the most normal childhood. Actually, he was raised by his dad, a notorious serial killer–raised to think like and eventually become a killer himself. But now Jazz’s dad is behind bars and Jazz wants a different life for himself. So when the body count begins to rise in his small home town, Jazz decides to (unofficially and without the sheriff’s permission) assist with the investigation. Because he knows how the killer thinks. And to prove to the town that he’s not like his dad . . . only, is it the town or himself that he needs to convince?

So, I’ve never read much Barry Lyga, but I Hunt Killers was an interesting enough read. It’s kind of a mashup of a contemporary YA novel and an adult crime thriller. And I guess that’s where I get my weird personal reactions to this story. Because on the one hand, I really enjoyed it, but on the other hand, it’s kind of strange and unsettling in a way I’m not sure I like. There’s this total dichotomy, even though in the book the elements are actually combined pretty well. On the crime thriller side, you get this guy who can get into the killer’s head, you get some pretty intense crime scenes, some very painfully intense flashbacks to the guys’ childhood, and a puzzling mystery that gradually unfolds. And on the YA side, you’ve got this kid who is struggling to even see himself as human, who struggles to see the people around him as human rather than just as things to be used. There is a ton of psychological and emotional baggage and internal conflict going on. And then you’ve got Jazz’s awesome girlfriend Connie and his BFF Howie–both of whom get dragged into the mess that Jazz involves himself in. The writing and the pacing of the story are good. The author clearly put a lot of research into this book. And I would read more of Barry Lyga’s books. I probably would read more of this series, even. But I still feel just a bit off about I Hunt Killers . . .  but maybe that’s the intended results, because how can a book about a kid who was raised to be a serial killer ever really be okay?

 

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Cosmic

Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

My rating: 5 of 5

Liam has always been tall for his age, getting mistaken for being older than he is and being teased by other children for it. Now at the age of twelve, he’s already growing facial hair and being mistaken for an adult. Which is mostly awful. . . . But it does have its advantages at times. Like when he was mistaken for a new teacher at his new school or when he and his classmate Florida would go to the stores with him pretending to be her father. And ever one to push the limits, Liam begins to see just how far he can go with this “adult” thing–never dreaming that doing so would end up with him being stuck in a spaceship with a bunch of kids looking to him to get them safely home.

So, Cosmic was one of those books that blew my expectations completely out of the water. I had never even heard of the author previously (clearly an oversight on my part), and it appeared both from the cover and the description to be a rather average middle-grade story of hijinks and randomness. Well, the middle-grade hijinks and randomness is definitely there, but average this book is not. It uses humor and a tall tale sort of setting to look at what being an adult is really all about–as well as to examine how much the advantages of being an adult are wasted on actual grown-ups who don’t have the sense of fun and irresponsibility to really enjoy them. It also looks at major themes like fatherhood and the relationships between fathers and their children in a way that is quite touching. But the story never gets bogged down in these themes; rather they are revealed gradually through the improbable and ridiculous circumstances in which Liam and his companions find themselves. It’s very funny–perhaps even more so reading this as an adult, although this is definitely written for a younger audience and is completely appropriate for such, even for a younger elementary grade readership. There’s something of a universality in the midst of absurdity to be found in Cosmic, and I would highly recommend this book.

 

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Catch Me Now (Supernatural Fanfic)

Author: BatTitan

FanFiction ID: 8980147

Status: Complete (35 Chapters)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

With one misstep, Ariel finds herself falling, not down the stairs at her school as she thought, but right out of her safe college life and into an airplane . . . right next to the Winchesters! Of course, she knows they’re the Winchesters (and not Jared and Jensen); she’s enough of a fan of Supernatural to know that. Also, enough of a fan–and in enough shock at being dragged from her own universe into theirs–to attract their attention. Not necessarily the best of things when they’ve just been dumped on the same plane themselves and are still reeling from the madness of it all. Things get sorted eventually,  and Sam and Dean decide to keep Air (as she prefers to be called) around since she must have been dragged into their world for a reason–possibly something to do with the impending Apocalypse ? Ariel becomes almost a part of the extended Winchester family, offering her opinions readily, helping where possible, and trying not to be too obvious of a Destiel fangirl whenever Dean and Cas are around each other. And then there are the dreams she begins having. . . .

So, the premise of Catch Me Now may be the sort that is both overdone and consistently messed up . . . but in this story, it works and does so brilliantly. A lot of that is due to the author’s obvious talent in spinning a quality tale; the writing itself is excellent. Equally impressive was the character of Ariel and the way her story was woven into the plot of Supernatural so seamlessly. Because this fanfic is essentially season 5, and other than the character insert, it pretty much sticks to canon (even when I really wish it wouldn’t!). Ariel is a really well-written OC, and I truly appreciate the work the author took to create someone who would work in the context of the story and the already existing characters, adding flavor and character without completely altering the course of the story. I especially appreciated that she wasn’t 1) a completely flat self-insert sort of character, 2) overly stereotyped in some way as OCs often are, 3) an awkward love interest for Sam or Dean, or 4) somehow automatically a great fighter or otherwise equipped to be a huge help in the fight. She’s funny, quirky, opinionated, smart, geeky, and compassionate–which is just what is needed for these guys–but she’s also just a normal college girl. As for the plot, the first few chapters are basically just the associated episodes as seen through Air’s eyes, which is interesting enough as it is. But as the story develops, we get more of her own story, sometimes as a part of whatever is going on in a certain episode, sometimes elsewhere, doing her own thing (often with Gabriel–I adore the amount of Gabriel we get in this story, it’s brilliant). The author did make a couple choices here and there that threw me a bit–like changes the person in which the story is written partway through (for a really good reason) and sticking with the plot where I would have loved to see some divergence (see above)–but in all those instances, there were solid reasons behind those choices and I respect them. They certainly didn’t reduce my enjoyment of the story, and I would highly recommend Catch Me Now to anyone interested in a fun, engaging Supernatural fanfic.

Note: You can find this story at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8980147/1/Catch-Me-Now.

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Finders Keepers

finders-keepersAuthor: Stephen King

Bill Hodges Trilogy, vol. 2

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

In his obsession with the writings of reclusive author John Rothstein (whom he considers a sell out), Morris Bellamy devises a plan to break into the old man’s house and exact his revenge. There’s also the tantalizing rumor that Rothstein has been writing in private and has volumes of unreleased work hidden somewhere in his home. Morris’s plan works, and he gets away clean, burying dozens of Moleskine notebooks full of Rothstein’s writing as well as several thousand dollars in cash that Rothstein also kept in his safe . . . only to find himself imprisoned for life on other charges before he gets to read a single one of those notebooks. Decades later, thirteen-year-old Pete Saubers finds Morris’s buried treasure by accident. And who could fault a kid for secretly passing the money along to his struggling parents, bit by bit–or for obsessively reading the Rothstein notebooks, fueling an already burning passion for literature. But things get messy when Morris is released from prison and comes looking for what he buried (what he killed for) so long ago.

I have found every Stephen King book I’ve read so far to be quite enjoyable, including Finders Keepers. Having said that, I think King does his best work when there’s something paranormal involved. This book is more of a crime thriller, and while it’s still quite excellent, it’s not his best in my personal opinion. I should note that this is the middle volume of a loosely connected trilogy (preceded by Mr. Mercedes and followed by End of Watch), but it’s entirely possible to read it independently (I did) without missing much; all the background you really need is worked into the plot. I thought the characters were solid enough, although I never strongly connected with any of them–Pete and Holly were probably the closest I came, but even they weren’t particularly immediate to me. The plot was fairly interesting though, all of the seemingly disconnected pieces fitting together like a puzzle. As far as the pacing goes, this is a fairly slow-burn thriller, if that makes any sense at all. There’s definitely action, suspense, and intensity, but as far as the story chronology goes, it takes decades to build, and for the reader, it takes place over several hundred pages. I wouldn’t plan to read the whole thing through in one night, that’s all.  It never got boring or stalled out though, at least not for me. Fair warning that, since one of the characters is a murderer and a convict, this book has more than its fair share of violence and language, so don’t come complaining to me if it’s shocking. Just saying. One of the most fascinating aspects of Finders Keepers for me was the obsession the characters had with Rothstein’s story; that’s something I can sort of relate to, and it’s also a good warning. I think most of us can agree that Bellamy is just stark raving mad, completely losing sight of the boundaries between fiction and reality. The greater warning is Pete’s story, that fine wavering of those boundaries that we can explain away logically while still doing nutty things to feed our obsessions, losing sight of what’s really important–like the people we care about. In any case, although it’s not my favorite of King’s books, I still think Finders Keepers is a good read, especially for those who enjoy the crime genre.

 

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Heart of the Dragon

Author: Keith R. A. DeCandidoheart-of-the-dragon

Supernatural books, vol. 4

My rating: 4 of 5

SPOILER ALERT: The events in this book take place after season 5, episode 8, so there are likely to be spoilers for any episodes prior to that. Plus, knowledge of events leading up to that point will be very helpful in knowing what’s going on in this book.

In 1859, an honorable ronin, known as “Heart of the Dragon” for his brave feats, is defeated by a far-sighted demon and turned into a vengeful spirit, one that may one day be of great use to the forces of darkness during the apocalypse. Years later, a young descendant of this ronin discovers how to bring this spirit back and bend its will to his own petty vengeances. The rash of mysterious (and obviously supernatural) deaths that follow become a plague to three generations of Campbells and Winchesters as the spirit returns once every 20 years.

My experience with media tie-in novels has been extremely patchy, with some being little better than poorly-researched fanfiction (minus the fandom) and others actually being great stories in their own right. I thing Heart of the Dragon is a surprisingly good story . . . if you love the TV series and know what’s going on. And I do have to say, watching the show up to season 5, episode 8, is basically essential to really get much out of this book. But within that context, I was actually really impressed and enjoyed this book quite a lot. I felt like DeCandido got a much better feel for who the characters are than he did in his previous novel Nevermore (which didn’t really impress me). The characters don’t just have a few phrases or stereotypical elements that typify them; they act and talk more like I expect Sam and Dean and the rest to act and talk on-screen. Plus, I thought the plot was interesting. I’ve heard people complaining that there’s just too much going on or that only a small portion of the story actually focused on Sam and Dean. True on both counts, but I enjoyed having a story that spanned from Mary and her parents to John and Bobby to Sam, Dean, and Castiel. Plus, the author did a great job of bringing in authentic period detail in relatively subtle ways to help keep the time jumps distinct. My biggest complaints are probably just me being snobby, honestly; for instance, the author uses “Cass” instead of “Cas” for Castiel’s nickname–he claim’s it’s what’s officially in the scripts, but I’ve never seen that actually used anywhere. Why would you even? But truly, I really enjoyed Heart of the Dragon for both its great characterizations and its interesting plot . . . but mostly for the characters.

 

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