Tag Archives: paranormal

Dead Until Dark

Author: Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse, vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience for sex, language, and violence, although it’s all relatively minor

In a lot of ways, Sookie Stackhouse is your average small-town Southern girl with strong ties to the community and a good job waitressing in a local bar. Oh, and a knack for reading people’s minds, which, not so average I guess. She calls it her “disability,” and although Sookie never talks openly about her gift, it’s given her a bit of a local reputation; “crazy Sookie” they call her. Of course, their opinions only seem more justified when vampire Bill Compton comes to town and Sookie–rather than running the other way like any sensible girl–starts dating him. And when the bodies of other girls in similar blue-collar jobs start piling up . . . well, the community starts to get nervous.

Cozy mystery meets vampire romance in this first installation of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect from this book, since I basically just had the cover, the fact that it seems fairly popular, and the knowledge that it was filed in the science fiction/fantasy section to go on. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised, although this isn’t exactly what I would typically pick up to read. The author does a brilliant job capturing small town Southern U.S., from the fine rules of polite behavior to the pine pollen that is ubiquitous in its season. Being a girl with small-town Southern roots myself, I was surprised at how well this aspect was depicted. The plot element of having vampires being “out of the coffin” as it were, being accepted as legal citizens, was pretty fascinating and led to some different potential plot directions that your average vampire story where they live in hiding and so much of the plot is just keeping their secret. But still, as much as I hate to do so, there’s a sense in which I have to compare Dead Until Dark to Twilight. Not in like a one-of-these-stories-was-copied-from-the-other sense; it’s just that with vampire romance stories, there are certain tropes that seem to keep coming up. The nice girl getting dragged into a dangerous life, the mysterious boyfriend, the shapeshifting (usually werewolf, so the change-up here was nice) other guy, the other (more dangerous) vampires coming around and causing trouble. Not saying any of that’s a bad thing–they’re tropes for a reason–but still. The romance was a little more that I would typically read; that’s probably one of the reasons this wasn’t so much my favorite story. Still, it was within acceptable bounds for the most part. As for the mystery aspect, it was a pretty typical small-town murder mystery, mostly notable for the fact that it was mixed with a vampire story at all. On the whole, Dead Until Dark was an enjoyable, quick read with good pacing and a great depiction of small-town life that I would recommend for those who enjoy both sexy vampire stories and a good mystery.

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Taproot (Graphic Novel)

Author/Illustrator: Keezy Young

My rating: 5 of 5

Being a ghost, Blue had missed human interaction . . . until he found Hamal, a guy who can actually see and talk to ghosts. The two quickly become friends–okay, Blue maybe has fallen a bit in love–and the small gardening shop Hamal works at soon becomes a popular hangout for a number of lonely ghosts. But something dark is creeping into the area, and Hamal seems to be at the center of it all. How far will Blue have to go to protect the guy he cares for and the other ghosts?

Taproot was one of the most charming, refreshing stories I’ve read in a while. Originally a webcomic, it’s now available as an updated single-volume graphic novel. But yes, it has that independent, webcomic sort of feel, which is delightful. The main characters are just absolutely lovable and sweet; like, I wanted things to work out well for them right from the start. And, not to give away too many spoilers, but I promise, they do get their happy ending. The art is really nice–distinctive and attractive. I really love the mix of bright colors with dark, especially the way the panels are overlapped to provide a fade-in at certain points. It’s used well to emphasize the contrast of light and darkness in the plot itself. As for the plot, again, a good mix of feel-good fluff and eeriness that resolves well and left me feeling happy. Taproot is the perfect sort of story for when you need something short to cheer you up and make you believe in hope again.

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Onibi: Diary of a Yokai Ghost Hunter (Graphic Novel)

Author/Illustrator: Atelier Sentō  (Cécile Brun &  Olivier Pichard)

Translator: Marie Velde

My rating: 3 of 5

On their visit to Japan, two young folks from France come into possession of an old, plastic camera that–so they are told–is specially made so as to be able to photograph yokai or spirits. Fascinated by the idea, they take pictures at sites reported to be haunts of yokai, tracing down legends around the country. But they won’t know until the roll’s finished and they’re back home whether it actually worked.

I feel like I should preface my review of Onibi by saying that it generally has positive reviews on Goodreads and has even won an award . . . because generally speaking, my own personal review isn’t that great, so maybe I’m totally missing something. I think a lot of my issue is just mistaken expectations. I mean, looking at this book–both the cover and the description–it looks like some cool graphic novel of a couple of kids going around hunting yokai. Which sounds awesome, incidentally. In actuality, this is more of a graphic memoir/travelogue of the authors’ visit to Japan. And that’s cool and all . . . if that had been what I was wanting to read. But being what it was, I was disappointed by an overall lack of plot and character development. You barely even see the main characters’ names mentioned, and their personalities don’t really come through at all–barring their penchant to be curious and seek out yokai legends. So yes, not an actual fictional story proper, more a fantasized adaptation of reality. On the other hand, to give credit where it’s due, when seen as what it is, Onibi does have its good points. Probably the best part is its depictions of rural Japan; you get some lovely landscapes and drawings of small towns. The art is nice in general–pretty typical western graphic novel style throughout. And the actual photographs at the end of each chapter were eerie and cool, much like some of the pics you see in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children–the ones that you know are some trick of lighting or such, but it totally looks like there’s a ghost or something. So yeah, as a travelogue, Onibi is a pretty interesting tour of some of the more rural areas of Japan . . . just don’t look to it for a lot of plot and such.

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The Atrocity Archives

Author:Charles  Stross

Laundry Files, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience, mostly for language

At first glance, Bob Howard seems like a pretty typical IT guy–smart, sardonic, harried by the incompetence of the computer-illiterate in his organization and the demands of his managers. That is, until you consider the fact that he works for a secret government organization whose sole purpose is to protect the world from eldritch entities invading from alternate realities. And Bob’s life is about to take a turn for the weirder as he, bored with desk duty, volunteers to be put on active service. There’s no telling what horrors he’ll run into next.

So, I’ve heard some really mixed reviews about this book, and honestly the author in general. I have to say, for myself, I enjoyed The Atrocity Archives a great deal and plan to read at least more of this series–probably some of Stross’s other series as well. It’s this delightful cross of eldritch horror, office politics, techno-thriller, and spy story, all told with this delightfully sardonic sense of humor. Personally, I enjoyed Bob’s outlook and found him an interesting character to read. And just the ideas behind this story are fascinating . . . higher maths being summoning rituals and opening doorways into other realities, programmers accidentally stumbling on said summonings, secret organizations specifically designed to deal with these. Plus just the whole office drama of the organization and Stross’s presentation of it. I have heard some folks complain about the “technobabble” used in this story, and yes absolutely this book makes me wish I actually understood more higher math and programming . . . but on the other hand, I’m not sure how much more sense it would make even if I did have more context for all the terms. It seems kind of like magic spells used in fantasy novels; like, if you understand Latin, you’ll get a bit of a heads up on what the spell does, but it’s mostly flavor text, and even if you don’t understand, the effects will become pretty clear pretty quickly. I never felt lost because I didn’t understand a term, put it that way. In any case, I found The Atrocity Archives to be a truly engaging and enjoyable book–recommended for those who enjoy something a bit more off the beaten path.

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Rosemary’s Baby

rosemary's babyAuthor: Ira Levin

My rating: 4 of 5

Life is glowing with promise for young couple Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse. Guy’s just waiting for his big break to launch his acting career. Rosemary is excited by the prospect of making a home and someday soon having a baby. And the both of them are thrilled at the opportunity to move into the exclusive Bramford apartment building. Rosemary’s friend and mentor Hutch, however, isn’t so excited when he hears they are moving there, citing numerous stories of strange, dark happenings in the building. Rosemary and Guy aren’t about to be put off by some stories, though, especially not after Guy hits it off so well with the neighbors. But as time goes on, those neighbors and various occurrences begin to seem more and more off . . . especially after Rosemary becomes pregnant.

Rosemary’s Baby is something of a classic horror novel–and I’m exceedingly glad that I knew that going in, or I would have been very confused. Because at first, it reads like period-typical literary fiction: young couple settling in, starting a career, making friends, that sort of thing. It’s only as you get further into the story that the atmosphere becomes more tense and the signs that something’s very, very wrong begin to show up more and more frequently and obviously. And it’s only in the climax of the last chapter or so that you get a truly apparent horror vibe, although it’s been building for a long time before you actually get there. Rather than being some intense, jump-scare filled thriller, Levin gives us a gradual build of tension with plenty of hints that (if you know what you’re looking at) point rather clearly to occult, dark influences. I would actually recommend reading the introduction to the 50th anniversary edition prior to reading the story if you get a chance, because David Morrell does a great job of pointing out some of the concepts to be looking for and points out the way the story’s focus changes from a very outside, dispassionate observation to a very narrow, emotional view from Rosemary’s perspective as the story develops–all of which add a lot to the horror aspect. On the negative side, this was written in the 1960’s, so there’s a certain amount of period-typical racism (and kind of sexism) that’s present . . . not in a way that’s central to the story, but still. But on the whole, this was an enjoyable read that I would recommend for those who enjoy a slow-build, atmospheric sort of horror.

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Bleach (2018 Movie)

Warner Bros.

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Kurosaki Ichigo: a normal high-school student with bleached-looking hair, a grumpy expression . . . and the ability to see spirits. The wheels of fate begin to turn as this ability leads to his encounter with a shinigami, Kuchiki Rukia, and spin completely out of control as their encounter with a dark spirit known as a Hollow leads to Rukia’s injury and Ichigo’s subsequent taking on of her shinigami powers. In effect, he becomes a substitute shinigami, fighting Hollows until he’s strong enough to give Rukia’s power back to her without dying in the process. He may even get a shot at the Hollow that killed his mother years ago. Assuming Rukia’s superiors don’t kill them both first.

I was surprised and pleased to see a decent live-action remake of Bleach released this year. This movie takes the first major story arc, all the stuff with Grand Fisher, Ichigo’s becoming a substitute shinigami, basically everything up to Rukia’s return to Soul Society, and compresses it into about an hour and a half of fast-paced action. It’s quite well done and manages to summarize a lot of information into a very brief chunk of time without losing the story in the process. Still, I would recommend this mostly for fans who are already familiar with the story, or at least the basic concepts, because it’s kind of a huge info dump even still. They did a good job keeping the balance, though, with drama, humor, and of course some action-packed fights interspersed. And the fights are properly epic. The CG throughout is very impressive, especially for the Hollows themselves. The casting was well done, especially for Ichigo himself and for Yuzu and Inoue, although I don’t personally love the casting for Renji. Honestly, my biggest complaint is just that, because there are sooooo many characters in Bleach, there just wasn’t time for lots of character development for everyone. Like, at all, in some instances. But still, they did a good job of picking a few key characters and developing them well. I liked that they actually took a proper story arc from the original manga instead of just making a random plot or hugely distorting a main plot, and I honestly do think they did well trimming and unifying it to work as a movie. So yes, I would recommend the live-action Bleach, particularly to fans of the original anime/manga.

Written by Shinsuke Sato & Daisuke Habara/Directed by Shinsuke Sato/Based on Bleach by Tite Kubo/Starring Sota Fukushi, Hana Sugisaki, Ryo Yoshizawa, Erina Mano, Yu Koyanagi, Taichi Saotome, Miyavi, Seiichi Tanabe, Masami Nagasawa, & Yōsuke Eguchi/Music by Yutaka Yamada

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (2016-2017 TV Series)

BBC America

Status: Complete (2 Seasons/18 Episodes)

My rating: 4 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/rated TV-14

“Have you noticed an acceleration of strangeness in your life of late?” It’s an odd question to be coming from the man who just forced his way through the window into your flat then had the audacity to be affronted when you’re upset by his presence. And yet, for Todd Brotzman, it’s an oddly apt one as his life has abruptly gone from one of inane consistency to a flurry of strangeness, ending with himself unemployed, a person of interest in a frankly impossible murder case, and, oh yeah, with an odd man in a yellow jacket climbing through his window. And the fun is just beginning.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is one of those shows that is absolutely brilliant . . . as long as you have the patience to deal with the utter absurdity of it. The WTF-factor is huge here, with weird happenings and an accumulation of strange coincidences that all happen to connect somehow just piling on en masse. But the story has a way of rewarding viewers who stick around for the weirdness, bringing everything together in the end to make an odd sort of sense. The characters are well written, brilliantly cast, and quite interesting. Moreover, they’re relatable, perhaps more than most any characters in a TV show I’ve ever encountered. Seriously, they’re so utterly not pulled together, and it’s actually endearing and affirming to see them going about their lives, trying to make things work, while sometimes not having a clue and being so ridden with doubt and guilt. They’re very human in the midst of something that’s completely strange, paranormal even. Which isn’t to say that all the characters are normal–I would say that Dirk himself, as well as all the other Black Wing subjects, are extremely odd in their mannerisms and their way of interacting with the world, the whole “holistic” leaf-on-the-wind thing. But they make for fabulous characters. I feel like the filming is visually rewarding as well–case in point the very beginning of the first season, where we go from close-ups of Dirk’s face (too close to actually identify him immediately) to an impossibly violent and improbably crime scene to a kitten in rapid progression. Or the beginning of the second season, where we are confronted with a fantasy setting, complete with a pink-haired prince and giant scissors wielded as swords (I was almost convinced this was a preview for another show at first, it was so strange!). Seriously, though, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is one of those shows that definitely isn’t for everyone, but if you’re willing to be patient with the weirdness, it’s oddly rewarding.

Created by Max Landis/Based on Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
by Douglas Adams/Starring Samuel Barnett, Elijah Wood, Hannah Marks, Fiona Dourif, Jade Eshete, Mpho Koaho, Michael Eklund, Dustin Milligan, Osiric Chau/Music by Cristobal Tapia de Veer & The Newton Brothers

 

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