Read: Sharp objects by Gillian Flynn

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Known for Gone girl which now has a movie of the same name, Gillian Flynn‘s Sharp objects is just as clever and shocking of a tale. While having only seen the movie of the other, the novel Sharp objects was more integuing of an idea and story.

Caveat: the novel reads like true crime and the murders are of little girls with vivid sometimes gory details and descriptions of the main character’s family abuse and self-harm. These passage run throughout the novel and might turn some readers off from it. 
Told in first person by second-rate journalist Camille Preaker, the book opens with a murder assignment from her editor that forces her to return to her long-left home in rural Missouri. Wind Gap is so small and with other more important news in bigger cities around the world that she is the only one of the scene writing, or rather struggling to write, about the horrific murders of little girls. Part of the novel centers around her reluctance to return and enummerating the many reasons of why she moved away to Chicago years ago. Flynn’s insights on small-town life are eerily accurate and her crafting of Camille’s loneliness and unhappiness are fascinating as well. The characterizations of Camille and Wind Gap create realistic portrayals in the novel. 

More specifically, Flynn hones the details but makes them her own. For example, Camille is a cutter (self-inflected harm) who carved words all over herself during her teenage years and got professional help for it recently. Now she writes on herself in pen, sometimes mindlessly. Due to this, she’s forced to wear long sleeves and pants or skirts to prevent anyone from seeing as only a couple of people know. Instead of the generic stereotypical acting out of a teen girl, it becomes a wholly unique endeavor especially as Camille refers to certain words flaring up throughout the novel when triggered by particular emotions, people, or situations.

True to form, the reader is led to believe varying things as the story progresses, usually kept in the dark alongside the main character. Deeper and deeper into the story, more is revealed and the mystery seems to become crystal clear until the final plot twist, in Flynn’s true nature. Stunningly chilling. 

Recommended?: For those who like a twisting murder mystery but don’t mind the brutal gruesomeness of the murder details for the young girls and other abuse and self-harm described. The plot itself was well-crafted and kept me in the dark until the final twist was revealed. Maybe diehard fans would have seen it coming but I certainly enjoyed the plot itself. More Gilliam Flynn, please!

Sharp objects book cover

Read: Transmetropolitan volume 3 by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson

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If possible, Transmetropolitan: year of the bastard volume 3 is even more offensive, explicit, and violent than the previous two. The main character Spider Jerusalem is oven emperor again consumed by city life and back to his bad habit of being constantly drugged up to make it through the day and write his columns. Previously led to his demise by reporting on politics, he begrudgingly agrees to cover the current divisive election. Keep in mind, this graphic novel was published in 1999. 

The plot of this volume is Spider starting to cover the election that he’s tried so hard to ignore up until now. Neither choice is good but one side is using hate and bigotry to divide people and feed off of it for popularity while the other candidate is still and fake, always smiling but not much substance. Just as he gets involved and starts covering the candidates, the opposition’s campaign advisor gets shot on air and dies. With such a cliffhanger ending, I’ll need to order the next volume soon from the public library. 

Oddly, the second the third volumes have been in near pristine condition while the first was well used. Seems like people try out that series and then do not continue on, which makes sense considering the content. If these were movies, they wcould hid certainly be rated R for drug use, violence, and sexual content. Despite these aspects, the story itself is compelling because while Spider is clearly flawed, he writes for and cares about educating the common person who he believes is getting screwed by society and those running it. His drug use stems from not being able, or perhaps willing, to deal with his disgust for how the world works and the scum who live in it, in a more healthy way. He doesn’t date, hang out with friends, and so far lacks or isn’t close with his family so there’s no support net; instead he fills that void with drugs to get by. However, with his new assistant, in this volume she shares her concern with her uncle who is Spider’s editor so perhaps in future volumes he will turn this around or at least work on it.

Recommended?: For graphic novel fans, and readers of Transmet as this fills in the political aspects of the world and what makes Spider tick. Also, for anyone interested in Ellis’ take on a divisive political race, as long as the other material isn’t a deal breaker. It feels weird to recommend this series, due to its explicit nature but the story so far is intriguing and the main character is complex. 

Tranmeyropolitan volume 3 cover

Read: Monstress: volume one Awakening by Marjorie Lin and Sana Takeda

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Monstress by writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda is a fantasy graphic novel about a world in a tentative peace after a brutal war with weapons and magic. There are five main races, including humans and other creatures with some that are magical.

From the first page, the drawings are stunning. They are in the style of steampunk mixed with fantasy elements that are reminiscent of Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. The detail and movement captured add to the atmosphere of the story.

Also, the world is mainly women, which is refreshing for a change. Whether or not there’s a reason for it isn’t addressed in this first volume. Nearly all covenversations are between women and never about men so it passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, even the new one proposed by Slate. Despite this, there is still a fair amount of fighting and deadly battles. Life in this world is difficult and cruel, especially for certain types of creatures who are taken advantage of by those in power.

While there is a lot to like about Monstress, the story itself isn’t very clear. There’s a main character but there are several others and a handful of different locations in which the story takes place. Perhaps the other volumes build upon it further but I wish there was more explanination in in this one. Nothing particular hooked me as a reader plus with new aspects being introduced then receding just as quickly as it turned back to the main character, it felt disjointed and confusing at times. I am not sure if I will read the others.

Recommended?: For graphic novel lovers and fantasy fans who would enjoy a beautifully drawn, creative story about a curious magical land in turmoil and on the verge of another war.

Monstress cover image

Read: March: book one by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

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Continuing the trend of graphic novels, I recently finished reading Congressman John Lewis‘ March: book one. Lewis played a large role in the civil rights movement and marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This book is part of a trilogy and the final one was published earlier this summer.

March: book one takes place on inauguration day on January 20th, 2009, as Lewis ready himself in his office for President Obama’s swearing in. However, it’s only the backdrop of this first book, as most of the action takes places during Lewis’ childhood and the start of the civil rights movement. The story ends in April 1960 and in the present, Lewis just leaves his office to head outside for the ceremony.

Similar to Maus and Persepolis, March uses the form of the graphic novel as a conduit for the serious and often violent history of the civil rights movement. It’s a great medium for showcasing important scenes in a visual form, with concise story and dialogue to explain. This makes for an accessible, inviting read for what could be an otherwise dense and detailed non-fiction book. Perhaps this way it will attract more readers and hopefully younger ones who likely don’t know about the history or don’t know much of it. 

With a trilogy, the story is allowed more time to develop. For this first book, while it spans many years of Lewis’ personal history as well as the beginning of the civil rights, not much happens. This book feels like it’s just getting started as it wraps up. The end feels too abrupt but then again, the subtitle conveys that there will be future books. As a stand alone, it feels incomplete although they seem to have done a good job with it. 

Recommended?: Yes but I have a feeling that all three books will need to be read together. This book covers Lewis youth and the Woolworth lunch counters demonstrations along wth Rosa Parks. It’s really the tip of the iceberg but the story and sketches are so well done. I can’t wait to read the next two!
March graphic novel cover

Read: The girl on the train: a novel by Paula Hawkins

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The girl on the train by Paula Hawkins is another of the recent novels to garner public attention from the Huffington Post, The New York Times, and NPR among others. After a personal recommendation, I had to get a copy. It’s easy to read so you have until October 7th if you want to read it before seeing the movie! There are a couple of trailers out for it although there’s so much more to the story and they don’t give much away.

This story is the most realistic that I have read in a while. It is set in England, frequently on trains and a suburb just outside of London called Witney. Rachel takes the train twice a day past the house that she and her now ex-husband used to live. He kept living there with his mistress-turned-wife-and-mother. Due to Rachel’s infertility, depression, and blind drunkenness helped lead to the end of their marriage despite her still loving him. From the train, though, Rachel watches the next door neighbors whom she never knew, giving them an ideal backstory. However, the neighbors lives weren’t perfect and the wife goes missing which drives most of the plot. Questions surrounding the story are how do people live with the choices that they make and how well can people ever really know their loved ones?

The format itself is told in first person in journal-like entires broken up into morning and evening portions. The main and majority narrator is Rachel with Meghan the neighbor who goes missing and Anna the mistress-turned-wife. It’s an odd format as a psychological thriller, especially as at a cliff-hanger it usually jumps to a different character. Though with the pacing of the plot and the odd mystery, it’s easy to keep turning to pages to find out what happens next. One I was about a third of the way through, I became hooked and then about halfway I began hurtling towards the last page almost in a sprint to finish.

The writing itself is journalistic, with sparse yet detailed sentences that focus on action. This make sense since the author Paula Hawkins was herself a journalist. For this type of a mystery thriller, it works well. Some also have equated her writing to Alfred Hitchcock and I agree that there are similarities. She works for the small yet long build up, with unexpected story progression and honing in on certain details in a way that Hitchcock does with his films; instead of being an abrasive action-packed thriller, the pieces begin to come together over the entire duration and only come into clear focus right at the end, like a Hitchcock film.

The tone of the novel is quite eerie since it’s hard to know who to believe or how much to trust anyone. Plus Rachel makes so many bad decisions that are “cringe-worthy” (as my personal recommender told me) but it’s impossible to put the book down so as I reader I follower her along in her misguided actions, mainly due to her alcoholism. In a way, the story is a perfect storm that coalesces into a fantastically odd, enthralling thriller. As this is Hawkins first novel, I can wait for more from her!

Recommended?: For suspense and mystery lovers as well as readers who enjoy a fact-paced thriller. There’s a fair amount of violence, abuse, and of course adultry. That aside, the violence itself is low-key, although we will see if the movie ups it and adds in any gore.  If any of this doesn’t sound appealing to you as a reader, then you can go ahead and it this one since it isn’t going to become a classic that everyone should read, although it’s a fun fairly quick one.

The girl on the train book cover

Transmetropolitan volume 2 by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson

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Transmetropolitan: Lust for life volume 2 continues the story of journalist Spider Jerusalem returned to the grimy, overcrowded, hedonistic City after a few years of solitude in the country. Thrust back into his old stomping ground, he once again takes up his blistering crusade to expose the seedy underbelly in the name of justice for the common man. Warren Ellis writes the story and Darick Robertson created the artwork.

With volume 2, Ellis and Robertson focus on Spider’s past which is literally hunting him down to bite him in the ass (at least one police bulldog anyway). He is a crude, rude dude and it’s clear that he’s made a multitude of enemies that are out to get him, including his ex-wife whose head is cryogenically frozen, and featured in the cover art. In addition to developing Spider further, the world in which he lives takes more shape as the revivals (reanimated people that had been suspended cryogenically) as given a storyline and explained more.

The plot lines flow together better in this volume. While some of the elements are self-contained, there is much set up for future graphic novels and a continuation of many of the stories. This volume feels like an in-between-er, a stepping stone to the upcoming volumes. There’s nothing wrong with that but it does seem like the first one must be read before this one. The first was choppier and this one is almost too calm in the sense of less overall action. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still the same brutal, occasionally gory, and explicit story as the first one, it’s just more subdued as they further the plot.

I remain intreguied and so will order the next one from the public library. Based on the condition of the volumes, not many make it to the second. I’m a bit disappointed that some of the aspects from the first weren’t mentioned in this one but we will see what’s in store for re in volume 3. They sure are super fast reads, which is nice for a change of pace. 

Recommended?: For those who read and enjoyed the first volume. There is a lot that’s not explained in this one, so I recommend starting from the beginning. 

Transmetropolitan lust for life book cover

Read: The night circus: a novel by Erin Morgenstern

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Curiosity finally got the better of me, well that and praise for this novel. I have known about it for years, hearing about its start as a NaNoWriMo story that met great success; author Erin Morgenstern even gave a NaNoWriMo pep-talk about her experience along with advice. However, the little that I knew about the premise of The night circus turned me off from reading it, since it reminded me of Something wicked this way comes by Ray Bradbury about a mysterious circus. Recently, I looked up the novel again and decided to give it a try. I’m glad that I did because it truly is a remarkable work, unique all on its own.

The night circus as a title does not do this novel justice. It is so much more, although the Circus of Dreams (Le Cirque des Reves) purports to be just a night circus and most visitors blindly believe that the only difference between this one and others is the fact that it only opens at nightfall and closes at dawn. In reality, the circus is a playing field for two competing magicians to showcase their very best talents with magic until one is declared the winner. Unlike a typical circus, the night circus contains a multitude of tents, each with its own exhibit or performances. Tents filled with frozen gardens, origami animals that move, an ever-changing labyrinth, and a cloud maze, just to name a few. Bound together by the game, Celia and Marco grow then circus by adding on new tents, rooms, and enhancements, trying to out due each other. However, because of this challenge, the circus requires care and attention as if it were alive so there are many people involved who keep it going as well. This twist on the classic circus setting is captivating and Moregenstern pulls it off beautifully, just like a well-practiced slight of hand. 

In stark constrast to The girls, Morgenstern’s sentences are long, lush, and buoyant. The novel itself feels like a fantastical floating dream. The characters and details are so vibrant and extravagant that there is a pervasive richness throughout, adding to the wonder and glamour. It is a relaxing, enchanting, and delightful read.

The novel itself is comprised of dated entries from different characters’ perspective although always in third person. These entries jump from different times and places, moving forward and backward without a clear pattern. This makes for a somewhat disjointed experiences, especially as a few are the same date but a year apart. It’s easy to follow otherwise but the story did jump around quite a bit which gets a little confusing. I love following characters so it’s tough as a reader when I get pulled away to be shown something else before catching back up with the previous character. That being said, I like how Moregenstern reexamines an event or period of time from multiple people, giving a richer experience to the reader by providing more perspectives. While here are two main characters, there is a large cast of supporting ones who the reader comes to care for just as much. I appreciate her letting them speak for themselves and expanding the novel to include many of them as well. 

Recommended?: Yes, definitely. It’s a charming novel that envelopes the reader the way a magician entrances an audience. The story might not be for everyone, with its magical elements and dreamy prose. However, if it sounds intriguing and you want something different, then step right up and enter this circus.