Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner

Written by: James Dashner

Published: 2009

Synopsis: When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.

Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade.

Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.

Everything is going to change.

Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

Remember. Survive. Run.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“If you ain’t scared… you ain’t human.”

Writing reviews for Young Adult dystopia is hard guys. They're so formulaic that even if they're amazing it's hard to make the review sound like something other than paint-by-numbers. The Maze Runner is yet another in the long line of Young Adult dystopian novels. I wish I could say that it broke the mold and was a completely unique inclusion to the genre, but it's not. That isn't to say that it's not an entirely enjoyable read or that it doesn't do some things differently but there might be big chunks of this review that echo earlier YA reviews I've written.

One of the things I've really enjoyed about this little YA renaissance is the prominence of female characters in the narratives. Are they necessarily three dimensional characters? Eh, that's hard to say. But at least they're there. The Maze Runner is an almost entirely male orientated novel. The protagonist is Thomas, who wakes up in a metal elevator at the start of the novel with no memories except that his name is Thomas. The elevator leads him up into the glade, a large patch of land that's surrounded by immense walls that form a maze. Thomas is thrown head first into a semi-structured society of teenaged boys, not quite Lord of the Flies but there's a feeling that that kind of insanity lingers not too far in their past. After his first day the male-dominated narrative is jarred with the arrival of another newbie which is not only unheard of in the strictly organised Glade but especially so because this newbie is a female. Theresa marks a different direction for the Gladers, not only because her gender represents a shift in dynamics but she literally shows up with a note saying that everything is going to change.

I actually think that the single female in a male dominated environment could have made for a very interesting novel. And it's all there bubbling below the surface, it just doesn't quite make it up. Why does the arrival of a female make such a huge impact? Why haven't there been females before? Is she at risk with all of these testosterone fueled teenage boys? Does she inspire rage or confusion or jealousy? None of this is really addressed, instead she's just an instrument of change. Her gender is ultimately immaterial - apart from the relationship that is (of course) sparked with Thomas. In a way that's kind of fantastic. Hell yeah her being a lady doesn't matter. Except in this environment of course it matters. Some of these boys have been stuck in a maze terrified of being torn apart by monsters for 2 years. Even if they didn't look at her sexually or romantically, her gender would inspire all kinds of other emotions and complications. She could be a reminder of the mothers and sisters they no longer remember, or a painful acknowledgement of a side of their life that's completely shut off from them. And what about from her perspective? This was perhaps my biggest issue with the novel. Sure finding a way out of the maze and the hints at being viewed by some Big Brother force are reminiscent of other YA series, but ultimately the general narrative is a fresh take on a well-mined genre. If this aspect of the novel was better addressed I think I would probably recommend this book more heartily.

What I quite enjoyed was the unfolding mystery of the maze and the action sequences as the book progressed.  It was a little slow to start but once the wheels started to churn it was far more engrossing. Perhaps not engrossing enough to keep me reading on in the series, but engrossing enough that I'm interested in seeing the film this weekend. One thing I'm not looking forward to though is the clunky made-up language used to replace actual swear words. If I actually have to watch an actual person say "you are the shuckiest shuck faced shuck in the world" or "I've been shucked and gone to heaven" with their actual faces I will vomit in the middle of the cinema.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book Survey #215

I am nothing if not a team player, so when everyone else does a bookish questionnaire I do a bookish questionnaire.  Plus, y'know, procrastination is good.



1. What is your favorite fictional food or drink? 
As a kid I read a lot of Enid Blyton and I especially loved Adventures of the Wishing Chair and The Faraway Tree. There was always the most swoon-worthy description of honey pies and magic sweets and bubbly drinks. It was the best.

2. How long did it take you to finish your last book?
I read The Maze Runner over about 3 days when I was at my friend's wedding. 

3. How many times do you stare at your books or bookshelves each day?
Not often. My bookshelves are in our spare bedroom so I only go in there if I'm looking for something new to read. Which I guess is actually fairly often.

4. How many Goodreads friends and books do you have?
I'm too lazy to go check, but I think I have around 90 friends? Although I probably only follow about 10 people's reviews. And I have far too many books on my TBR. It's getting embarrassing.

5. Do you ever quote books in public?
It's probably less books and more TV shows and movies when it comes to quotes but I tend to quote A LOT.


6. Do you ever reread books?
Not in forever. When you have 200+ books on your shelf that you haven't read it's hard to pick up a book you've already read once, twice, fourteen times.

7. Do you judge a book by its cover?
Absolutely. I love attractive books, bold graphics, abstract prints, really minimalist designs - ooooh baby. But if I've heard good things about a book I'll pick it up even if it has a headless photo, a floaty girl in a swishy dress or a movie tie-in poster cover. Well. I'll get it from the library at least.

8. Instagram, Twitter, or Tumblr?
All three, but twitter is probably my most bookish when it comes to social media.

9. Which genres take you the longest to read?
Classics. Old-timey language and attitude does not a speed read make.

10. Who are your favorite BookTubers (or Book Bloggers)?
I don't think I've ever book-tubed, but my list of book bloggers is long. You all know who you are, but in case you're in need of a confidence boost...

Alley
Meg
Tika
Laura
Emily
Sarah
Nahree
Michael
Hanna
Canada Kayleigh
Ellie
Jenna

You guys are the bee's knees.



11. How often do you pre-order books?
Um, I think Harry Potter were the only books I ever pre-ordered, and technically my mum did that. 

12. Are you a shopaholic?
No? I enjoy buying people presents though - I go crazy overboard when it comes to buying presents for people.

13. How many times have you reread your favorite book?
I don't even know which book would be my favourite. I've probably read the Harry Potter series through a dozen times, which I imagine exceeds any other rereads I've done.

14. Do you own a lot of books?
So, so many. I've been pretty good this year though. I've donated more books than I've bought.

15. Do you take pictures of your books before you read them?
no? I take the occasional photo for instagram, but I'm not weirdly keeping a photographic library of my library.

16. Do you read every day?
Something, yes. I try and read a book but if I'm exhausted after a day of research it'll probably be a comic or magazine.

17. How do you choose a new book?
I have a vague pile of books in my mind that are my must-must-must-must read sooner than soon. But if I buy a book while I'm out, or order one online or here some amazing buzz about a book that's been sitting on my shelf for years...well, that vague pile has been pretty similar looking for awhile now.

18. Do you always have a book with you?
Now that I have the kindle app on my phone, yes. I usually tried to have a physical book, but the size of my purse would sometimes make that tricky if I was going out in the evening. Thank god for digital books I say, I'm never left in an awkward situation now!

19. What are your biggest distractions from reading?
The internet and television. There are so many shows I love to watch and sometimes I spend a night watching just them and getting zero reading done.

20. What is your favorite place to buy books?
I love to try and find a shop that has a coffee shop or cafe attached so I can shop and drink caffeine and eat cake at the same time. But since I'm pretty time-poor, it's more likely that I order books online.

Procrastination complete!

Graphic novel mini-reviews #23: Fight Like A Girl

Black Widow: The Finely Woven Thread (Volume 1)

Written by: Nathan Edmondson; Illustrated by: Phil Noto 

Published: 2014

My Thoughts: Black Widow gets the cold shoulder a bit by people who have watched the Avengers film, mostly because she lacks the magical powers or indestructible suit of the others but also because, let's be honest, she's a lady. This new run of Black Widow is fantastic for a number of reasons. First, it's freaking gorgeous. The art is beautiful, like pin it to your wall and gaze at it all day beautiful. Second, like the Hawkeye comics, it takes place away from the Avengers - removing the possibility for people to judge how useful she'd be to the team. Instead it focuses on her spy work for S.H.I.E.L.D and her freelance work, where she works as a mercenary/spy to raise enough money to pay off the sins of her past. There's a lot of emotional depth in this comic. Natasha/Black Widow has been many things in her life, and she regrets a lot of it. She works hard to try and make up for past mistakes and choices but she's still unsettled, adrift and unable to really find a centre to hold on to. This volume falls into the espionage/action genre and I really love the unfolding mystery that we're treated to. I've just bought the next two issues that have been released, so I'm eagerly waiting to read them and see if I can piece together who is behind the chaos raining down.


Wonder Woman: Guts (Volume 2)

Written by: Brian Azzarello; Illustrated by: Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins, Dan Green

Published: 2013

My Thoughts: I'm a little biased in that I'm basically predisposed to like Wonder Woman and Greek myths and this particular book is chock full of both. I know some reviews have been a little wary of the new origin story for Wonder Woman (which doesn't discount her earlier creation, just reveals it to be a lie her mum told to keep her safe) and the heavy inclusion of the Greek gods but I'm still loving it. It sort of makes Wonder Woman the modern equivalent of Thor, which as far as I'm concerned means they should just make it a film already. This volume introduces us to a little more of Wonder Woman's newly discovered mythic family and a more competitive, conniving family I don't think is possible. They might be related but they're all hungry for the top spot on Olympus and are all more than willing to use and abuse anyone who gets in their way. It's amping up to be a pretty hectic battle pitting family against family, and I'd hate to be on the side opposite WW.


Guardians of the Galaxy: Angela (Volume 2)

Written by: Brian Michael Bendis; Illustrated by:  Sara Pichelli, Francesco Francavilla, Olivier Coipel, Valerio Schiti, Kevin Maguire.

Published: 2014

My thoughts: Is it okay to include GotG into a mini-review series centred around butt-kicking women? Sure half the team is men, but this particular volume centres heavily around two ladies - Gamora and mysterious newcomer, Angela. Angela comes from another dimension/universe/timey-wimey place called Heven, which has these mystical stories about a place called Earth. So does this mean heaven is real? Are our religious stories based around interactions with this Heven? You won't find out any answers just yet, but you will get to watch Gamora and Angela go from kicking each other from here to Tuesday to begrudging team-mates to something a little closer to friends. And the rest of the team is there too, full of wise-cracks and double entendres and I-Am-Groots. This volume intersects with a couple of other comic series which does make for some headscratching moments (a threat in one issue is over and done with in the next) but that's the life of a comic reader right.

Monday, September 1, 2014

August in Review

Boom. Goodbye August, you're outta here.



BOOKS:

What I Read:



*Fool by Christopher Moore - my review
*Black Widow by Nathan Edmondson, Phil Noto
*Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe by Cullen Bunn, Dalibor Talajić
*Aquaman by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado -my review
*Guardians of the Galaxy: Book of Kings 1 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletie
*Guardians of the Galaxy: Book of Kings 2 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker
*Guardians of the Galaxy: Realm of Kings by Dan Abnett,Andy Lanning, Brad Walker
*Wonderwoman: Guts by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins, Dan Green
*How to Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran (post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4, post 5 - Spoilers!)

Book Stats:

86% male / 14% female (ooof)
72% American / 28% International
89% ebook / 11% audiobook / 0% physical
100% fiction / 0% non-fiction
78% graphic novels /  22% novels

Well this was a bit of a rubbish month for books wasn't it! But while I haven't finished much (other than lots and lots of graphic novels) I have started a whole lot of other books. I am currently juggling Haruki Murakami's new book Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage with Gregory Maguire's Wicked. I'm also still slowly slogging away with Cheryl Strayed's Wild. Note to anyone interested in reading it, do not download either the Kindle or Google play editions. The Kindle version is an Oprah edition which basically means every second line is underlined because it's supposedly inspirational (ugh) and the Google play book has removed every comma as well as the space between the words that bracketed the comma. Shame on the editors or whatever the digital equivalent is, it's ridiculous and makes a book that I'm not particularly enjoying even harder to read.


FILM/TV                                                                                                                                                


This month marks 5 years since Tom and I first started dating so we celebrated in our usual fashion, dinner and a movie. This time we went and saw Richard Linklater's Boyhood and guys, it's freaking amazing. It's a very simple almost non-narrative film but it takes place over 12 years, 12 actual years and tells the story of a boy growing up. It's a fascinating character study and probably isn't for everyone but if you think it sounds like something you might like (read this review for a little more info) you should definitely put aside 3 hours to go see it on the big screen.  

I also went and saw a new big budget Australian drama/thriller (my review) These Final Hours which really knocked my socks off and I went and saw the Guardians of the Galaxy film. Which kind of explains the massive chunk of GotG comics up in my monthly reads. Guardians was awesome guys, which wasn't a surprise (LOOK AT THAT CAST. LOOK AT THAT RACCOON WITH A GUN!  I AM GROOT) but seriously, most fun I've had in a blockbuster in ages. Take that lazy Michael Bay and Expendables, big does not have to equal bad.

My Netflix account has been taking a hell of a beating. I like to have the tv going in the background while I work. I know most people use music, but for some reason music distracts me while television doesn't. I read the other week that Netflix reports that the average person takes 8 days to watch a season of a TV show, but I bet I've thrown all their figures out since I have it going for like 12 hours straight! I tend to favour shows I've already watched or that are trashy because then I don't get sucked into the narrative. So hello Scandal and Grey's Anatomy and Coupling! By the way, the relationships in Scandal and Grey's Anatomy are gross, like really gross. Which would be fine if the writers knew they were gross but they clearly don't. It's like the 50 Shades of Grey of TV, but the BDSM is all mental and just as unhealthy as 50 Shades. Speaking of 50 Shades*,  The Fall on the other hand is brilliant and my reward for a day's hard work. I'm only a few episodes in but so far it's great and I highly recommend it.                                                                                                                                                                                                            

LINKS

*A chapter that was cut from Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been released and it's dark, but dark in your typical brilliant Dahl kind of way. (Via The Guardian)

*Medium published an article about paedophilia which, while confronting, presents an interesting point of view I'd never thought of before. The author interviews several teenaged and young adult paedophiles that have never offended and don't want to - which raises the question, what is paedophilia? Is it a psychological illness, a form of sexual identity, something genetic? It's a really heavy article, but I'm glad (appreciative?) I read it. (Via Medium)

*I adore this illustration (infograph?) of authors and the walks they took to inspire their work (Via The New York Times)

*A really relevant article about the recent leaking of celebrity nude photos and why you shouldn't look at them since some people apparently don't understand why they shouldn't. (Via Daily Life)

*Since the actor Jamie Dornan is playing a super creep in both.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

(Audio)book review: Fool by Christopher Moore

Fool 

Written by: Christopher Moore

Published: 2009

Audiobook read by: Euan Morton

Synopsis: A man of infinite jest, Pocket has been Lear's cherished fool for years, from the time the king's grown daughters—selfish, scheming Goneril, sadistic (but erotic-fantasy-grade-hot) Regan, and sweet, loyal Cordelia—were mere girls. So naturally Pocket is at his brainless, elderly liege's side when Lear—at the insidious urging of Edmund, the bastard (in every way imaginable) son of the Earl of Gloucester—demands that his kids swear their undying love and devotion before a collection of assembled guests. Of course Goneril and Regan are only too happy to brownnose Dad. But Cordelia believes that her father's request is kind of . . . well . . . stupid, and her blunt honesty ends up costing her her rightful share of the kingdom and earns her a banishment to boot.

Well, now the bangers and mash have really hit the fan. The whole damn country's about to go to hell in a handbasket because of a stubborn old fart's wounded pride. And the only person who can possibly make things right . . . is Pocket, a small and slight clown with a biting sense of humor. He's already managed to sidestep catastrophe (and the vengeful blades of many an offended nobleman) on numerous occasions, using his razor-sharp mind, rapier wit . . . and the equally well-honed daggers he keeps conveniently hidden behind his back. Now he's going to have to do some very fancy maneuvering—cast some spells, incite a few assassinations, start a war or two (the usual stuff)—to get Cordelia back into Daddy Lear's good graces, to derail the fiendish power plays of Cordelia's twisted sisters, to rescue his gigantic, gigantically dim, and always randy friend and apprentice fool, Drool, from repeated beatings . . . and to shag every lusciously shaggable wench who's amenable to shagging along the way.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“...Heinous Fuckery, most foul!”


The minute I finished reading Lamb I wanted to read more of Christopher Moore but I am reading books so slowly at the moment, that it felt unfair to all the other authors crowding my shelves and remaining unread. So I jumped onto Audible and had a look at which of his books were audiobooks and surprisingly there were only two, Fool and The Serpent of Venice. And since The Serpent of Venice is a sequel to Fool, the choice was rather obvious.

Fool is Moore's interpretation of Shakespeare's famous tragedy King Lear* from the perspective of Lear's fool, Pocket**. It's not a faithful interpretation, at least not in the strictest sense, it borrows from other plays and mixes up some of the history but Moore channels the Bard where it really matters, i.e. foul language and sex.
"This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as nontraditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank . . . If that's the sort of thing you think you might enjoy, then you have happened upon the perfect story!"
It is HELLA bawdy guys. Lots of T&A, dirty puns and crude innuendo, and since the language is much more updated than your traditional Shakespearian play you tend to actually notice exactly how filthy it is. There's a lot less "wait, was that meant to be dirty?" "why does Hamlet want to still his head in Ophelia's lap? Am I reading too much into this? (no)" and a lot more cackling at Pocket's nastiness. Because I was listening to an audiobook I didn't note down any of the truly hilarious dirty bits and Goodreads has completely let me down (for shame readers, where are your priorities?) but trust me, dirty.

So the book obviously has that going for it but you don't need to be a borderline pervert to find enjoyment in the story. It's got a lot of the other good Shakespearian elements, subterfuge, witches and demanding ghosts and really fantastic language. It's no Shakespeare obviously, but Moore does a brilliant job in creating a book that bursts off the page with its colourful*** language. The audio reader, Euan Morton, was one of the best I've come across so far. I looked him up and he's a stage performer which makes complete sense. He has absolute control over the writing, drawing sentences out or hitting the enunciation on certain words to really emphasise the writing. There was a particular repeat  line that just hit me every time, when Pocket would say "Moi?", said I, in perfect fucking French", and it shouldn't be that funny but Morton's line read is so brilliant that I would be caught by surprise and laugh out loud every single time. I love to read Shakespeare, but it really is so much better when it's performed. I felt the same with Fool, it might not be in iambic pentameter and it might technically be a book but I wholeheartedly believe that listening to this book is the way to go.

But back to the actual book. Pocket is a perfect fool. He is the quintessential Shakespearian fool, ruthless, smart, hilarious and constantly outwitting everyone and playing them against one another. Isaac Asimov once said that the great secret to the fool is that he isn't a fool at all, and that's the beauty of this book. It's twisted the well known story so that the fool is in the background of every scene, pulling the strings and putting words in everyone's mouth. Pocket might seem like the man in court with the least power, just a man with a puppet and black silk clothes, but he's got a finger in every pie. Nothing happens without him knowing about it and with his protégé Drool (who can mimic every voice he hears perfectly), he has every tool at his disposal to take power, wreak havoc or convince someone to fall in love with him - whatever he wants really.
“Perhaps there is a reason that there is no fool piece on the chessboard. What action, a fool? What strategy, a fool? What use, a fool? Ah, but a fool resides in a deck of cards, a joker, sometimes two. Of no worth, of course. No real purpose. The appearance of a trump, but none of the power: Simply an instrument of chance. Only a dealer may give value to the joker.”
This book is first and foremost a funny, funny book but it also has a hell of a lot of heart. Pocket isn't simply a mischievous trickster trying to make trouble for everyone. I mean he is, but there's also more to it than simply acting to move the plot along. Throughout the book we get glimpses into his childhood, and his early days in the castle with Cordelia, the little princess who didn't talk until he came to work for the king. It's still pocketed with humour, but these moments help round out all of the characters and give them a purpose so they aren't simply replicas taken from Shakespeare's page.

If you're fond of Shakespeare or bawdy tales or laughing a lot then you should hunt out this book and give it a read. Or a listen, because even if you've never been a fan of audiobooks I'm certain this one will change your mind. I'm off to download the sequel now, although I'm trying hard to hide my disappointment that it isn't simply a full length version of the play a group of travelling performers told Pocket about, Green Eggs and Hamlet.
“We've been rehearsing a classic from antiquity, Green Eggs and Hamlet, the story of a young prince of Denmark who goes mad, drowns his girlfriend, and in his remorse, forces spoiled breakfast on all whom he meets.”


______




*Which is a much better and much shorter time than the original title Shakespeare used "The True Chronicle of the History of the Life and Death of King Lear and His Three Daughters". Oof, get an editor dude.

**It's been a long time since I've read Lear, but I'm fairly sure he's just called Fool in the play right? 

***And not just colourful = crude language.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Graphic Novel mini-reviews #22 (SUPERHEROES AHOY)

Captain Marvel: Down (Volume 2)

Written by: Kelly Sue DeConnick, Christopher Sebela; Illustrated by: Dexter Soy, Filipe Andrade.

Published: 2013

My Thoughts: I gotta say, I really dig what Kelly Sue DeConnick writes. In this volume Captain Marvel faces her mortality...sort of. It turns out that the highs that come with infusing Kree with human DNA, like flying and self-healing and super-strength, come with some devastating lows. And Cap M is my kinda lady when it comes to dealing with this drama i.e. she doesn't. She's suffering a major case of denial and is stubborn as all hell. Filipe Andrade does most of the art in this volume (all but the first issue I believe) and I love it so much. It's not what you'd expect in a big name superhero comic, the proportions are all out and it's very stylised, the sort of style you'd normally see reserved for covers, but I thought it was amazing. It reminded me a lot of Ben Templesmith, who is hands down my favourite comic artist.


Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Avengers (Volume 1)

Written by: Brian Michael Bendis; Illustrated by: Steve McNiven, Yves Bigerel, Michael Avon Oeming, Sara Pichelli

Published: 2013

My Thoughts: With the GotG film creeping ever closer, I decided to dip into the comics once again. This one is from the newest run and focuses mostly on Starlord, who he is, where he came from, the gigantic dick of a father he has... I don't know if the story behind Starlord's parents is canon prior to this comic or invented for it, but I thought it added an interesting motivation for his character. The group dynamic is so much fun, they are all so prickly and angry (which is great) yet they all clearly care of each other (awww). It's my favourite mix of sarcasm, bravado and tender moments.



Aquaman: The Trench (Volume 1)

Written by: Geoff Johns; Illustrated by: Joe Prado, Ivan Reis

Published: 2012

My Thoughts: Before the New 52 release, I have to admit that I was one of the people who'd mock Aquaman. He's just a little old fashioned for a 21st century context y'know? This volume basically took that idea and ran with it. We see Arthur/Aquaman dealing not only with his decision to step down as king of Atlantis but come face to face with the humans he's chosen to protect who mock him mercilessly. There's a scene where a blogger accosts him at a restaurant and asks him how it feels to be no-one's favourite super hero. Ouch. So this comic is perhaps more for Aquaman doubters and newbies, introducing you to him and his girlfriend Mera (NOT Aquawoman, thank you very much) as well as covering a lot of Aquaman misinformation (i.e. He doesn't talk to fish, he doesn't need to be in the water to help). I loved it, and will definitely be reading on.

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