Monday, May 18, 2015

Book Review: Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Written by: Jeff Lindsay

Published: 2004

Synopsis: Meet Dexter Morgan, a polite wolf in sheep's clothing. He's handsome and charming, but something in his past has made him abide by a different set of rules. He's a serial killer whose one golden rule makes him immensely likeable: he only kills bad people. And his job as a blood splatter expert for the Miami police department puts him in the perfect position to identify his victims. But when a series of brutal murders bearing a striking similarity to his own style start turning up, Dexter is caught between being flattered and being frightened -- of himself or some other fiend.(via Goodreads)



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“Really now: If you can't get me my newspaper on time, how can you expect me to refrain from killing people?”


When I started watching Dexter I had no idea it was based on a book series. I distinctly remember my mum bringing the dvd of the first season home from work one day, and us then spending an entire Sunday watching through the whole show. Actually, that might be the first example of me binge watching TV and it's all my mum's fault. That's a load off my shoulders. 

Anyway, I only found out it was based on a book series a few years after it began airing on TV when the author, Jeff Lindsay, came to the Brisbane Writers Festival. I sat in on a few of his talks and thought he seemed fascinating and really interesting and made a mental note to actually read one of the Dexter books. And then the TV show started (in my opinion) to go downhill and I swore of Dexter, and moved on to Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones and whatever else began at about the same time. Cut to 2 months ago when I was killing time in a charity shop and found a copy of Darkly Dreaming Dexter for a wallet-busting $2. All of my promises to read the series flooded back and I decided to give book Dexter a go at redeeming his reputation after TV Dexter did such a dismal job.

If you've seen the TV show, this first book follows the first season fairly closely. We get introduced to Dexter and the folks of the Miami-Dade police department and the crux of the novel follows the "ice truck killer" (although it's never called that in the book) and some exploration of Dexter's childhood and how Harry's code (i.e. you're going to kill anyway, so kill bad guys) began. There's some interesting parallels drawn between the two killers and their styles, and reading about a serial killer through the eyes of another serial killer is quite an interesting perspective to take.

There are some clear differences between the book and the series and they boil down to two things. First, the characters. Deb is still his sister, Masuoka (Masuka in the show) is still creepy and Doakes doesn't like Dexter, but LaGuerta is quite different and Angel is a medical examiner, rather than a cop. Dexter's relationship with Rita is also a very minor part of the book. The second actually builds off the first, and it's that this is almost entirely Dexter's story. The book rarely delves into the other characters outside of conversations they have with Dexter or if he happens to catch them looking at him. This makes a lot of sense given that he's meant to be a sociopath and he's depicted as quite egocentric, but the great thing about expanding the view outside of his POV in the show, is that we are reminded that, oh yeah, he's a goddamn monster.

The idea to only kill bad guys in an interesting one. It sometimes feels like Dexter has a superpower, and instead of channeling it towards evil he uses it for the good of the city. When you hear him talk about Miami and the decay that has set in, the drugs and gangs and murder, it's hard not to think that he's doing the police a solid. Clearing the trash that they can't legally touch because of tricky things like evidence and motive. But it's a lot like Walter White in Breaking Bad. Sure, he's doing it for his family! He wants them to have money to survive after he dies of cancer, so selfless! So loving! Then you remember he's cooking meth, and that there are probably a lot of families being destroyed because of that meth, and a lot of lives cut short because he's decided that this is the best way he can provide for his family. Dexter's code to kill the big bads is nice in theory, until you remember he's a serial killer. HE MURDERS PEOPLE. Who is he to decide someone deserves to die? Who is he to decide that a rapist should disappear into a bunch of garbage bags, rather than see the inside of a court room. Who made him judge, juror and executioner? Because otherwise he'd kill decent people? That's not really much of an option. That's one reason I wish the books pulled back from his perspective a bit. He refers to himself as not human countless times, but without a proper outside perspective it's hard to step back and actually see him as the monster he says he is.

The book is a really easy read. I don't love Jeff Lindsay's writing style, it's quite stilted at points and some of Dexter's dialogue just didn't work for me. I also found all of the characters quite flat, but it's hard to say whether this is intentional because the book is being told from the perspective of a sociopath, someone who admits to neither caring nor understanding the way people think and act. All in all it makes for a quick and entertaining read, I just don't know that I'll bother reading any more unless I can find similar deals at the charity shop.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Pages to Panels: Another Bookish Guide to Getting into Comics (5)

It's been awhile since I posted a Pages to Panels, and since I'm so sketchy with reviews right now is a doubly good time to share.

Like my first Pages to Panels post, this one is to help match your (book) reading style with some popular comics. Some of the series are ongoing while others have already been completed. One of the toughest things I find with comics is waiting for new issues (I just want to read them NOW) so if you're like that then I recommend going for some of the options that have already been completed.

So here are another three series I think you should all be reading. If you want to go back to some of my earlier pages to Panels posts, the links are all at the bottom of the page.

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1. Fatale - Ed Brubaker, Sean Philips (5 volumes, completed)




I reviewed the first volume of Fatale awhile ago and was absolutely captivated with the effortless blend between horror and noir. It's astounding how well it was done and it was subsequently added as further proof in my very long "Ed Brubaker is a comics god duh" list. The horror elements of this novel are very Lovecraftian but when I was trying to decide on a single book/story to add to the banner it occurred to me that I felt like threads of The Mist were present in it. Not in any narrative sense but thematically or stylistically? I'd have to reread The Mist to work out why it jumped out at me as an obvious comparative choice, but in my gut it feels right. That said, the horror isn't really present in the graphic novel, at least not in the first few volumes. It's almost more that it's something that's hovering around the corner that keeps catching the corner of your eye when it adjusts its position.

Similar comics you might also likeNeonomicon (Alan Moore), Batman Black and White (various authors), Dead Letters (Christopher Sebela)


2. Doom Patrol - Grant Morrison, Richard Case (6 volumes, completed) 


I've mentioned it before but Grant Morrison is weird. But he's the best kind of weird, he opens up your head and forces in all these absurd and fractured concepts that make you look at things differently. Doom Patrol is a comic for the untraditional. The heroes aren't your standard Supermans or Aquamans, they're a motley crew of damaged and unexpected heroes. There's a sentient street, a schizophrenic, a robot and a lot that can't really be explained with a single word. Similarly, the villains aren't your run of the mill variety. My favourite were probably The Brotherhood of Dada, which features a villain who has every power you haven't thought of. The book does a great job of subverting your superhero expectations and will keep your forever on your toes.

Similar comics you might also like: Animal Man (Grant Morrison), Top 10 (Alan Moore), Deadpool (various authors)


3. The Wicked and the Divine - Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie (1 Volume, on going)

Now before all of you American Gods haters write off this comic, the main reason I used it as a comparison is because of the way it utilises mythology. Where American Gods used myths to reflect on culture and cultural identity, The Wicked and the Divine uses it to look at popular culture and celebrity status. If you didn't like American Gods I think you will still like The Wicked and the Divine, and if you don't I doubt it has anything to do with a Neil Gaiman novel.  In WicDiv 12 Gods from the pantheon (which Gods changes every cycle) return to Earth every 90 years to live again. During that time they inspire and distract and torment and are credited as a critical component of societal progress. In this iteration the Gods have come back as musicians (hence the Bowie comparison above, who Lucifer is directly modeled off) except this time an internal conflict has erupted between the Gods. The art and character design in this comic is exceptionally well done. There's a level of minimalism in the panels which keeps the highly saturated colour choices from becoming overwhelming, as well as keeping the focus on our Gods. I think the second volume has either just been released, or is about to be.

Similar comics you might also like: Unwritten (Mike Carey), Saga (Brian K. Vaughan), ODY-C (Matt Fraction)








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Read my previous Pages to Panels posts: 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Book review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places

Written by: Gillian Flynn

Published: 2009

Synopsis: Libby Day was just seven years old when her evidence put her fifteen-year-old brother behind bars.

Since then, she has been drifting. But when she is contacted by a group who are convinced of Ben's innocence, Libby starts to ask questions she never dared to before. Was the voice she heard her brother's? Ben was a misfit in their small town, but was he capable of murder? Are there secrets to uncover at the family farm or is Libby deluding herself because she wants her brother back?

She begins to realise that everyone in her family had something to hide that day... especially Ben. Now, twenty-four years later, the truth is going to be even harder to find.

Who did massacre the Day family?
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“Coffee goes great with sudden death.”

When I read Gone Girl I was a little disappointed, but that was pretty much guaranteed given how much that book was raved about. I didn't hate it, I just wasn't wowed by it. So when I heard whisperings from people about Flynn's other books I was hesitant. On the one hand I had heard basically nothing about them (a marked difference from Gone Girl) which is definitely the way to go into these books, but on the other hand - do I really want to read another Gillian Flynn? 

I'm not sure what made me decide to spontaneously buy a copy of this the other day. I must have seen it mentioned on a blog or on facebook and the seed was subconsciously planted. But bought it I did, and read it I did. And I enjoyed it immensely. As seems to be my want at the moment, I keep reading books that are terrible for review content. Like Gone Girl this is a book that benefits from going into it with a fairly open mind, untarnished by reviews and discussions. But unlike Gone Girl it doesn't really have that same reliance on twists. I don't want this to be a review that's simply "this is why it's better than Gone Girl" but there are two points I want to make about why it is better than Gone Girl. Possible minor spoilers for Gone Girl up ahead. 

1. Lack of twists/insane red herrings.  
As a thriller/mystery obviously there are still a certain about of red herrings and twists in the book, but it doesn't rely on them. Instead it's a bit more of a hidden narrative, slowly uncovering new details with each chapter. The chapters alternate between a present-day account from Libby as she pokes into the case that destroyed her life and perspectives from the day leading up to the murders from both her mother and Ben's POV. The parallel narratives help to slowly build the complete picture, but the varying perspectives also mean there's plenty of opportunity for people to read into things wrong or jump to conclusions. So even though you think you've worked out a link between two people or have begun to tunnel towards the truth of the murders, the next chapter will offer another perspective which presents the same situation in an entirely new light. So it's a little red herring-y, but I felt like it was analogous to real life, the whole "there's two sides to every story" shtick.  

2. The characters 
It was only when I read this book that I was able to finally put my finger on one of my biggest problems with Gone Girl. I know everyone loves to talk about how they're both these dispicable loathesome characters that you love to hate, but I just hated them. I love a good villain and I love an anti-hero, but Nick and Amy just annoyed me. The characters in Dark Places helped me finally work out why. Gone Girl is a story of two bored middle-class adults who are unhappy in their marriage. They treat each other like garbage for no reason other than they are too lazy to divorce and start again. I never understood why they did what they did, and "they're bad people" just felt lazy. On the flipside, all of the characters in Dark Places are terrible people (on varying levels) but I felt like ther was weight to their terribleness. Libby is a thief and a liar, she's lazy, antagonistic and dismissive. Her dad is an absolute monster, a lying, thieving, drug-addicted asshole who manipulates and antagonises everyone he meets. Her brother is obnoxious and her mother is so weak willed at times I couldn't stand it. But they aren't just horrible people in a vaccum. Libby might have been a jerk and a thief even if her family had lived, but witnessing their murders (and living) has a massive impact on her personality. Her mother was pregnant at 17 and struggled to manage a failing farm, four children and an abusive husband (when he was around) - her frustration and exhaustion is entirely understandable. Ben was 15. 15 year olds suck. Now, I'm not saying that the only people who get to be assholes are people who have had a tough life but their behaviour and attitude just felt more believable and relatable than Amy and Nick in Gone Girl.

So overall I give this book a big thumbs up. I found the ending really tidy (too tidy - people who have read this, let me know what you thought in the comments) but ultimately satisfying. I'm really glad I bought this as an ebook, it makes my terrible habit of flipping towards the back of the book much harder. Even if the ending was a little clean, it's still the kind of ending you want to discover at the end of the book. If you liked Gone Girl, I'm sure you'll like this one too. If you, like me, didn't particularly love Gone Girl I'd recommend it even more. The story, like all Gillian Flynn, is absurd and soap opera-y but that's what makes it such a page turner and once I started this book, I barely put it down. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Book Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wain

Code Name Verity

Written by: Elizabeth Wain

Published: 2012

Synopsis (Goodreads): I have two weeks. You'll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.

That's what you do to enemy agents. It's what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine - and I will do anything, anything to avoid SS-Hauptsturmf├╝hrer von Linden interrogating me again.

He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I'm going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France - an Allied Invasion of Two.
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“KISS ME, HARDY! Kiss me, QUICK!”

When I was in my book slump I couldn't find a single book that appealed to me. I didn't feel like horror, or sci fi, or romance or comedy. I didn't want to read a book that would make me cry or that would teach me new things. I wanted to read, but reading is hard when you can't think of a single story that seems tolerable. I was stuck waiting for a bus with nothing to do and no games on my phone, so I ended up flicking through my kindle app. I don't have a tonne of books on there at the moment, but there were two books that I bought last year that I hadn't gotten around to. Graeme Simsion's* The Rosie Project and Code Name Verity. I felt pretty eh about both but I ended up flipping through Verity to pass the time and then I couldn't put it down. 

Not only is Code Name Verity good enough to knock me out of my slump, it's just really good full stop. This is going to be one of those really vague reviews because I knew very little going in ("ladies and world war 2" basically covers what I knew it was about) and I truly feel like that added significantly to my experience.Especially given I've since seen that a lot of synopsis' give a lot of detail about the second half of the book and that seems crazy too me.

So, bare bone details. Code Name Verity is a gorgeous tale of friendship and feminism amidst WWII. Two women, Maddie the mechanic/pilot and Queenie the radio operator/translator, strike up a friendship when they're both working at an airfield**. And while the story is all about their friendship and the paths they took to get to where they are, it's also not. You see, Queenie/Verity was captured by the Germans when she arrived in France to work with the resistance. The story she's telling, the one about a pair of girls who are bright and warm and full of spark, is so that she can collaborate with the Germans and offer them details in exchange for her life. So as you fall in love with these two girls (especially Maddie, god I adored her tenacity) you are also incredibly aware that it's a whole different life. Queenie might be collaborating, but she's still very much a prisoner of war so there's a lot of darkness and pain outside of her tale of friendship. 

And that's all I'm going to tell you because I can already feel my fingers tingling and wanting to type big huge gushy spoilers about the characters and the story. I don't want to do that so I'm going to finish very briefly by saying that I really adored this book. I loved reading a WWII book that was about women and friendship that took place on the front lines (so to speak). In the author's note Elizabeth Wain mentioned that while she tried to keep historical details factual, she stretched the truth at times because this is a fictional book after all. But the stuff about Maddie as a pilot, the risks and roles women took during WWII around piloting and intelligence was all entrenched in fact and I was so fascinated that I bought three non-fiction books on the subject about 5 minutes after I wrapped by reading Code Name Verity. 






*I only just realised that his surname isn't Simpson.  

**There is a very good possibility some of these minor details are off. I read the book awhile ago and my memory is full of holes. But the feels, oh my god, I remember those acutely. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Graphic Novel mini-reviews #32 (Women be kickin' ass)

Ms Marvel: Generation Why (Volume 2)

Written by: G. Willow Wilson; Illustrated by: Jacob Wyatt, Adrian Alphona

Published: 2015

My Thoughts: Ms Marvel is one of the comics I keep on top of month to month, and it is such a treat each and every time. The comic, aside from being freaking fantastic for female and POC representation, is always fun, humorous and fantastically written and drawn. This volume continues with the main mystery about the missing kids and the Inventor, but there are also wider story arcs about the origin of her powers and her life outsider of superhero-ing. It does a fantastic job balancing these aspects of her life and having the lessons from high school/family situations influence her approach to being a hero and vice versa. If you haven't started reading this series yet then I implore you to get on it. You're are really missing out on something great.


X-Men: Primer (Volume 1)

Written by: Brian Wood; Illustrated by: Oliver Coipel, David Lopez

Published: 2013

My Thoughts: I've only read a few X-Men arcs (there are just so freaking many) but as soon as I heard that there was an all-lady arc of X-Men comics I was on board. I mean, OF COURSE I WAS. The comics don't eliminate the male characters (Beast and Wolverine have bit parts) , but it's great to read a kickass story about women banding together to eliminate an alien (and a lady one to boot) that's threatening to destroy the whole world. There's also a lot of female-related issues incorporated, from lady-on-lady rivalries, motherhood, and growing pains (emotional, not physical) which makes it just a really fantastic volume for female comics fans, especially younger ones. There's also a bonus issue from the 80s which is all BIG hair and HIGH fashion and shopping montages and strip clubs, which is absolutely everything I want and need in a comic.


The Lumberjanes (Volume 1)

Written by: Noelle Stevenson; Illustrated by: Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen

Published: 2015

My thoughts: This comic is just the cutest comic around. The story is pretty simple, a bunch of girls are at a summer camp and constantly find themselves up against a bunch of weird ass stuff, monsters and were-bears and feuding Greek gods. But all of that is secondary to this group of 5 girls just having a freaking blast with each other as they deal with these supernatural obstacles. There's something really amazing about media that tells a story of girls just getting along. There's usually a guy in the way or girls hating on other girls and it gets SO tiring. These girls are all so different and unique and yet they support each other through everything and it makes me SO HAPPY. I'm grinning like a loon just thinking about it. Absolute must read.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

March in review

BOOKS: 

What I Read:
Books
*Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found by Frances Larson
Stats:
0% male /100% female
0% American / 100% International
100%white/ 0%POC
0% ebook / 100% audiobook / 0% physical
0% fiction / 100% non-fiction
Comics
*Deadly Class: Reagan Youth (Volume 1) by Rick Remeder, Wesley Craig, Lee Loughride. 
*Deadpool Killustrated by Cullen Bunn, Matteo Lolli
*X-Men: Primer (volume 1) by Brian Wood, Oliver Coipel, David Lopez
Stats:
100% male / 0% female
75% American / 25% International
100%white/ 0%POC
100% ebook / 0% audiobook / 0% physical
100% fiction / 0% non-fiction

So. That's a pretty pitiful March. It was a tough month for me, reading wise and in general. I was so busy with so many things and when I finally got time to read I just didn't connect with anything. I picked up so many books, got a few chapters in, and put them down, or gave up a couple of pages in. I considered going back to a book I knew I loved, like Harry Potter, but I was so busy I didn't really feel like rereading books either, haha. In the last week I seem to have finally moved out of my funk though. I'm most of the way through Joyce Carol Oates' Wild Nights, which is a collection of short stories written about the final days of several iconic authors, and Elizabeth Wain's Codename Verity. I'm enjoying them both a great deal, plus they're both ladies, so huzzah for April's diversity stats!!


LIFE:

I don't have much to report on because moving house is taking over my life, as is teaching/finishing my PhD. Oooh, one thing!  I got my Ninja book swap gift in March! Yay for bookish gifts in the mail!



The amazing Emma (Mab is Mab) sent me the most amazing package of Bristol themed goodies! I got a copy of Alice Munro's Dear Life, a pair of sparkly earrings, a Bristol Balloon Fiesta-themed coaster (see below), a Bristol-themed greetings card, some candy and a whole lot of insight into the city of Bristol. Emma also added little post-its to her gifts to give me a little more info about the city or to explain the gift, it's such a sweet touch! So I'm pretty set on visiting Bristol when I eventually make my way across to Europe now. Especially if I can time it to coincide with the Balloon Fiesta!





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