Tag Archives: psychological

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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Psych: The Musical

USA Networkpsych-the-musical

Psych Season 7, episode 15/16

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Santa Barbara: murder capital of the world . . . or so fake-psychic detective Shawn Spencer would have us believe. But when former playwright and suspected murderer “Z” escapes from the institution (where he had been kept since the night he was found in the burned theater with the murdered critic who was going to ruin his show), Shawn’s assertions begin to appear more accurate. Especially when his only lead is an escaped serial killer with an addiction to show tunes. As the body count begins to rise, it seems Shawn’s gut may just be wrong . . . perhaps the obvious suspect is also the correct one.

I love when TV shows do random musical episodes, and Psych: The Musical is no exception. This extra-long double episode is classic Psych, playing up the both the strengths and the long-running gags of the show with aplomb. I do feel that, since such a large portion of the focus is on the music, a bit of the detective side of the show slips to the wayside . . . but you do still get a solid murder mystery with an interesting twist here. Really though, the main focus is on the humor and hijinks, and that comes through strongly in the songs and choreography. In fact, I would almost say that the whole point of parts is solely to be goofy and mess around–which is not to say that the music and choreography is not impressive in its own strange way. The cast actually has a remarkably solid pool of vocal talent; James and Dulé are quite good, and I’ve mentioned previously that I love hearing Timothy Omundson’s singing. His duets with James are probably the best (and silliest) parts of the show. Maggie’s ability to dance in heels is quite impressive as well. The music was pretty typical showtunes, although nothing majorly catchy. “I’ve Heard It Both Ways” is probably the most memorable as well as the song which embodies the characters and the show the best; it’s probably the only track I would listen to outside of watching the episode. All in all, Psych: The Musical was neither my favorite Psych episode nor my favorite TV musical, but it was still a fun show–mostly recommended for Psych fans as opposed to musical fans in general.

Written & Directed by Steve Franks/Music by Adam Cohen/Produce by James Roday & Dulé Hill/Starring James Roday, Dulé Hill, Timothy Omundson, Maggie Lawson, Kirsten Nelson, & Corbin Bernsen/Guest Starring Anthony Rapp, Ally Sheedy, Barry Bostwick, Brooke Lyons, Kurt Fuller, Sage Brocklebank, & Jimmi Simpson

 

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Scythe

Author: Neal Shustermanscythe

Arc of a Scythe, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

In a world where all the needs of humanity are met, where even death is reversible, Scythes stand apart as essentially the only remaining source of true death. Established as a sacred trust to ensure that the booming and aging population does not completely overrun the earth and exhaust its resources, Scythes kill–or “glean” as they call it–although not nearly enough to mimic the effects of normal death in the past. One such Scythe, Faraday, has chosen to take on not one but two apprentices, in opposition to the traditions of the Scythedom. But the other Scythes turn his decision against him, deciding that only one of his apprentices will survive the apprenticeship, killing the other apprentice. Scythe apprentices Citra and Rowan will not readily bend to this edict, however, regardless of the pressure put upon them–particularly considering the feelings they have for one another.

I know all the premises of Scythe sound really weird and dark and complicated–and they are. A huge chunk of this book is set up and world building and background, which is completely necessary to understand the story as it develops. But Neal Shusterman is such an incredible author that the background doesn’t feel like an info dump at all; rather it’s interwoven as a part of the story such that you don’t even realize you’re being fed these huge chunks of backstory. As for the premise, strange as it is, it works remarkably well and allows the author to focus in on several interesting philosophical and psychological points. In this world, humanity really wants for nothing. Death–however much focus may be put on it due to the Scythes’ part in the story–is incredibly unlikely for any given individual within the next century or so. Even apparent age can be turned back so that a centenarian can appear (and feel) twenty again. In this state, Shusterman draws attention to the stagnation that occurs when people don’t have anything to struggle for, any clock to race against. On the other side of society, he brings in some interesting observations regarding the sort of people who would be chosen to be Scythes–and the effect that such a horrendous job would have on those people. Add to all the interesting world building some absolutely stellar characters and an intense, rather horrifying plot, and you’ve got an incredible book. I would highly recommend Scythe, although I would also caution a certain level of reader maturity due to the violent focus of the story at times. I’m definitely looking forward to the next volume in this set!

As an aside, is the cover of the book not just fabulous?!

 

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Broadchurch (2013 TV show)

ITV/Created by Chris Chibnallbroadchurch

My rating: 4.5 of 5

When the body of 11-year-old local Danny Latimer is found murdered on the beach, the small seaside town of Broadchurch is torn apart. Suspicious fly madly as neighbors who have known each other their entire lives begin to mistrust each other and deeply kept secrets begin being unearthed. Local policewoman and close friend of the Latimers, DS Ellie Miller finds herself assigned to the case, working under the leadership of an outsider, DI Alec Hardy. Not an easy task, as Hardy challenges Miller to doubt everything she knows, to look at her friends and neighbors with a cold cynical eye. But as the two watch the rifts growing in the tightly knit community, they vow to do whatever it takes to catch Danny’s murderer, whoever it may be.

I have to admit, I originally only tried watching Broadchurch because David Tennant has a starring role (which he performs admirably). I was very impressed, and by more than just Tennant’s acting. Chris Chibnall’s work in crafting a murder mystery in a small, contemporary British seaside town is impeccable. The suspense is kept up really well, feeding the audience clues while keeping the identity of the murderer a close secret. Even more impressive than the mystery (to me at least) was the way in which the show portrayed the effects of the murder and subsequent investigation on such a small community, as well as on Danny’s own family. The psychological and dramatic development was really well done, touching and unsettling without being overdone. I think a huge factor in how the show turned out is the excellent casting work and character development that was put into it. Each character plays an important role, and the actors chosen for the roles are perfect. Of course, Tennant makes for a great detective–cool and cynical, with a dark past. And Olivia Colman’s role as Ellie is a perfect counterpart, sweet and fiery and all too trusting. And Arthur Darvill as the local vicar–I swear, I would watch an entire show just devoted to Arthur Darvill being the local vicar, it’s fantastic. As an added bonus, Eve Myles joins the cast in the second season; I love her work. On the whole, I didn’t enjoy the second season as much as the first–the first being devoted to the criminal investigation of Danny’s murder while the second is split between the trial and the re-opening of Hardy’s dark previous case, the Sandbrook murders. Both series are excellent, I just felt that the second series wasn’t quite as strong as the first. Still, for anyone who enjoys crime fiction (or a good British drama), I would highly recommend Broadchurch.

Written by Chris Chibnall & Louise Fox/Directed by James Strong & Euros Lyn/Starring David Tennant & Olivia Colman/Music by Ólafur Arnalds

Note: Currently this TV series consists of two seasons of 8 episodes each. I’ve heard rumor of a third season, but haven’t seen anything particularly official or final yet.

 

 

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Challenger Deep

Author: Neal Shustermanchallenger deep

My rating: 5 of 5

“Caden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench. Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior. Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence, to document the journey with images. Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head. Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny. Caden Bosch is torn.” (I’m using the Goodreads summary here, because it’s perfect and I don’t want to change anything.)

I was absolutely blown away by Challenger Deep. I mean, I always enjoy Neal Shusterman’s writing, but this particular volume is something special even for him. It clearly comes from a very personal place, as he mentions in the afterword that a lot of the ideas come from his son’s own experiences with mental illness. And that personal connection really shows, inviting the reader into the world as it appears to someone struggling with a brain chemistry that isn’t working normally. I still can’t say I understand . . . I don’t think anyone who hasn’t actually lived there can really understand. But I can definitely be more accepting and willing to try to understand for having read this book (which is really helpful since I’m dealing with mental illness of a different sort with my Grandfather who has Alzheimer’s). I loved the was Shusterman wove together Caden’s “real world” experiences with life on the “ship” on its way to Challenger Deep. As you go, it becomes more and more clear that the “ship” is just another way in which he sees the world, you begin to see parallels between actually people, events, and choices. But because it’s presented in that way, you get this additional, interesting story that not only increases the reader’s understanding but is also really engaging in its own surreal sort of way. The writing, in Caden’s first-person view, is brilliant and easy to read in a strange, surreal way, even though the events are constantly flipping between “realities” sometimes even within the chapter. A nice plus also is that the chapters are really short, so it feels like a quicker read–and it’s easy to read a chapter or two between other things, even if you don’t have much time. I think I would highly recommend Challenger Deep to anyone, and particularly to anyone who has someone in their life who is dealing with mental illness.

 

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A Girl on the Shore

Mangaka: Inio Asanoa girl on the shore

My rating: 2.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/18+

Koume, a middle-school girl aching from being used and abandoned by the popular Misaki. Keisuke, a middle-school boy whose parents are never home and whose brother committed suicide a while back. The two come together again and again, using each other, seeking something more, something satisfying, something bigger. And while it’s uncertain whether they’ll find what they’re looking for in each other, it’s true that their relationship will change both of them in ways they never expected, although whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen.

I’ve really enjoyed Inio Asano’s manga in the past, particularly the well-loved Solanin. From the back cover and the reviews I’ve seen, I guess I was expecting A Girl on the Shore to be something similar, although of course I expected it to have some more mature content, being rated 18+. I was quite disappointed to find the majority of the book is exactly that: mature content. There are all the elements of a great story present, and in other circumstances with the proper development I could have easily rated those elements a solid 4.5 of 5. Koume and Keisuke are both interesting, complex characters that tell us something about ourselves. Keisuke has all sorts of stuff going on with his parents and his deceased brother that could have been developed more. Koume not only has permissive parents and an unsatisfactory relationship with Misaki, she also has an interesting female friend in her class and an old childhood crush/friend which were all present but needed more development. The whole idea of feeling incomplete and looking for something bigger in life is something I think we all can relate to, something that could have really been developed. And may I just mention, Asano-san’s art is gorgeous and life-life in an amazing way. So why a 2.5 instead of a 4.5? The reason is that all of these amazing aspects of this manga are only sparsely developed, giving way throughout to huge sections of very explicit sexual content between these two kids. Now I realize that they’re having sex and trying to find something important in that relationship is an important part of the story development, but there are reasonable limits, even for an 18+ manga. And for me, A Girl on the Shore crossed those limits, not only because it had too much explicit sexual content but perhaps even more so because it left important story elements relatively undeveloped to make room for that content. Disappointing in the extreme, although you may find it otherwise. I’m sorry to say that I can’t really recommend this manga although I generally love this mangaka’s work.

 

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The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil

Author/Illustrator: Stephen CollinsThe Gigantic Beard that was Evil

My rating: 5 of 5

Dave lives on the island of Here in a neat, tidy house on a neat, tidy street. Every day he follows the same, orderly routine. In fact, he detests disorder, as do all the denizens of Here. But one day everything changes for Dave, one day all the disorder that haunts his nightmares seems to burst forth from his nearly bald body to form a beard. An enormous beard that won’t stop growing no matter how it’s trimmed and treated. A beard so disorderly and gigantic that is seems ready to devour the entirety of Here. So of course, the people of Here do what they have to do; they deem the beard “evil”.

I really enjoyed The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil much more than I expected to. It felt like a mix of Shaun Tan, Dr. Seuss, and The Stanley Parable, not that that makes any sense but it’s true nonetheless. There’s exactly that sort of combination of silliness paired with a deep, unsettling underlying tension. Because this story really is a parable about us all, not one that I could spell out the moral to but one that’s valuable to consider nevertheless. It’s a scary but important reflection on human nature. The textured, stylized art and the sporadic, sometimes-rhymed writing work remarkably well with the theme. Actually, the entire graphic novel is just fitted together in every detail in a way that just works. If you’re at all of a philosophical bent, I would definitely recommend The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil.

 

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