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Saturday, 26 November 2016

Batman: The Dark Knight: Golden Dawn by David Finch & Jason Fabok

It's been quite a while since I read any comics and am thus quite behind with general lore, but since my sister was kind enough to get me this as a gift, I figured that I could try it and see how well it read. And considering it's a Batman comic, one of my favourite superheroes growing up, at least it's a hero that I can try and get invested in again.


Batman is on a new case, looking into the disappearance of beautiful socialite and childhood friend of Bruce Wayne, Dawn Golden. While he soon finds that Killer Croc and the Penguin are involved with her disappearance, there is something stalking the streets of Gotham that is far more dangerous and is inextricably linked to Dawn Golden. Can he find her and unravel the mystery in time to save her?
Golden Dawn just left me so unsatisfied, which is really disappointing considering that I really do like Batman, as well as the fact that it was a gift. So, where to start.
I guess I will start with the fact that despite this apparently being the beginning of the Batman The Dark Knight series, I was left really confused because despite needing a fairly in-depth knowledge of Batman the book doesn't really try to bring new readers up to speed at all. For me, this was primarily the presence of the character Etrigan. Up until now, I had never come across anything where he was a prominent character, so to just drop him into what I was expecting would be a Batman-only story was most disconcerting. To more DC-savvy readers, his presence might make perfect sense, but to me it was like "and now, a demon in your regularly scheduled Batman comic". And considering that it turns out that the whole demon thing is really important to the main plot of finding Dawn Golden, it does make proceedings that little bit more confusing. It might just be me though, I can never quite get my head around Batman having magical enemies. I can accept that he lives in a world with magic, but usually that stuff gets sent to characters like Wonder Woman or maybe Zatanna. To put Batman against a demonic cult just seems jarring and inappropriate somehow.
Additionally, I'm not quite sure why the writer thinks that I will be especially concerned about Dawn Golden's fate. I mean, ignoring the fact that her name is all kinds of awkward and irritating in the light of the comic's subtitle, there isn't really anything there to latch onto with her character. They try and raise the stakes by having her be one of Bruce Wayne's childhood friends, except that there's only one scene of the two of them as children and all it told me was that she was a sullen girl who loses her friends' toys. Thrilling stuff. Her secret backstory is told later in one rushed, uninteresting splurge that didn't really add much to her as a character.
The final thing that bothered me was an art issue. While the general quality was very polished, the artist seems to have an issue when it comes to drawing women. At one point, a woman steals the Batmobile and for several pages I could have sworn that it was Dawn. It was only when Batman found Dawn that I realised my mistake. When your character faces and designs are that indistinguishable from one another, it doesn't matter how pretty they are because you have just hobbled the clarity of whatever your story-telling is trying to achieve.

Really, this disappoints in pretty much every way. The story is confusing and poorly laid out. It sets Batman against a magical enemy, that still feels jarring to me. The missing woman is so colourless that it is difficult to care about her one way or another. And there is no differentiation between the female characters' designs, which is just lazy really. 2.5/5

Next review: Stalkers by Paul Finch

Signing off,
Nisa.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Weekend by Christopher Pike

When I was a teenager, I used to stay around my grandparents' house a lot over the school holidays, and they would always allow me to use their library card. Whilst exploring the library there, I first discovered Christopher Pike, whose books I would have a love-hate relationship with from that day. I have previously read Weekend, but it has been a while and I wanted to see how it held up.


In Weekend we follow a group of friends who are spending their last days before graduation on holiday in Mexico. But what should be a dream holiday is made tense by memories of an unexplained accident that left one of their party severely ill. These tensions are ramped up as things go wrong one by one, starting with the phone lines going dead.
I'd forgotten just how 80s this novel feels at times. These days you'd have to write in why no-one is using a mobile phone for one thing. But mainly, the characters feel very reminiscent of the kind of teenagers that you got in films from that generation, both in teen dramas and slasher films. None of them are really all that likeable, but they're entertaining enough that you want them to stay alive. While that can be really cheesy here, it does feel kind of comfortable. Like nothing new has been made here, but the stuff that does come up is handled at least competently. After the irritation that was The Benson Murder Case, I think I needed a bit of comfort reading.
Admittedly, I'm not sure why Weekend is labelled as horror, considering that it only barely flirts with the genre in the most minimal way possible. And of Christopher Pike's work, it is also one of the least scary. If you start reading it expecting scares, then you'd be disappointed. If you're looking for a pretty decent thriller and mystery, then you're probably on safer territory.

Overall, pretty cheesy and very 80s in feel, but quite good if you're looking for something comforting and easy on the brain. One of Pike's less tense books, but still one of the most tonally consistent of his works. 3.5/5

Next review: Batman: The Dark Knight: Golden Dawn by David Finch & Jason Fabok

Signing off,
Nisa.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Benson Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

Having done a bit of research into the Golden Era of detective fiction, I primarily knew S. S. Van Dine from his article "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories". Since the rules seemed sensible enough, when I came across some of his writing I thought that I'd check out how well he could put his teachings into practice.


When playboy stockbroker Alvin Benson is killed, his social circle are in a furore trying to figure out who could have murdered him. Enter art enthusiast and amateur detective Philo Vance, who immediately notices some interesting features of the crime scene that the police seem to be overlooking. But will he be able to convince the police of the right culprit before an innocent citizen is arrested first?
This could have been a decent enough detective story, if it weren't for the detective. There is nothing even remotely likeable or interesting about Philo Vance. Admittedly, the fact that the first chapter does nothing but sing his praises and talk about his art collection didn't incline me positively towards him, and I found that further reading only confirmed my worst fears. Philo Vance is the snob that is quite happy to watch you work through a problem slowly and steadily, only to trash your work and declare that they knew from the start what the solution was. He bases his workings entirely on psychological profiling, despite appearing to be entirely alien to actual human emotions and drives. His singular emotion appears to be smugness, perhaps cynicism if I'm generous. I couldn't hate him more if I tried.
Additionally, the author-named character, Van Dine, is entirely pointless. He makes a big deal about his experience as a lawyer, and then does nothing with it. In fact, I forgot that he was even a character until right at the end, because he contributes absolutely nothing to the storyline. His entire purpose is to follow Vance around like an obedient puppy with a notebook and an obsession with noting down every possible detail about an encounter.

What could have been at least an average murder mystery is completely ruined by having the detective be an odious snob with no redeeming qualities, joined by a chronicler who might as well not be there. Don't bother with it. 1/5

Next review: Weekend by Christopher Pike

Signing off,
Nisa.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart

The Dice Man was another book that I picked up because I adored the concept as presented by the blurb. Having had that method of picking books to read backfire on me more recently, I came to this perhaps a little more warily than I may have initially picked it up. But I am ever optimistic, so the book was not to be abandoned regardless of wary preconceptions. 


Presented as an autobiography, The Dice Man follows Luke Rhinehart, a respected psychiatrist and happily married father of two, who finds that despite his life being successful in all areas deemed socially acceptable he is unhappy and bored. Whilst drunk one night, he decides to base his next decision on the roll of the dice: roll a one and he is to have sex with his colleague's wife, roll any other number and he is to go to bed and continue life as normal. When he gets a one, he finds that leaving the decision-making to chance has opened up possibilities that he could never have expected. 
Having now finished reading The Dice Man, I find myself a little lost with regards to how it should be reviewed. Because the issue with a main character who compulsively bases his decisions and behaviour on dice rolls can't really have a character arc as such. While your average novel would focus on a change from one status quo to another via a period of conflict. So when your main character has their character arc within the first third of the novel, transitioning from regular socialised human being to a diceman, the rest of the novel becomes watching the rest of the world reject or accept the radically different main character. While that can be an interesting prospect, I will admit that it does make the events of the novel blur somewhat. It was by no means uninteresting, but when your protagonist's reaction to every major decision is "as the Dice wills" then the only way for them to have any meaning is by measuring the reactions of secondary characters, all of whom are essentially pitied by not being dicepeople. So yeah, I can see why a lot of readers would find this a bit on the bloated side. 
Another thing to consider when picking up The Dice Man is that it is set in the late 1960s-early 1970s, and the attitudes really reflect this. It's weird how things like black-suffrage and the anti-Vietnam protests are mentioned, but don't really get much focus beyond "I work in a mental facility and many of these people are sectioned". Honestly, it can get a bit uncomfortable with how unsympathetically they can be portrayed at times. Probably not a thing that you'd want to focus on for your psychology novel, but perhaps a bit unfortunate. 
The only thing that honestly bothers me is that the book doesn't so much end as stop. In the middle of a sentence too. While I don't think that the subject matter would ever really allow for a proper, satisfying ending, I do somewhat object to stopping in the middle of a sentence. 

A weird novel that kind of defies definition. While an interesting concept, it does suffer from the fact that the main character's changes are all artificially dictated, so the majority of the novel's events suffer from blurring together. Might still be worth it if you are ready for this when first picking it up. 3/5 

Next review: The Benson Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine 

Signing off, 
Nisa. 

Saturday, 29 October 2016

The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse

So, Hesse. Not a name that's been heard around this blog for quite some time now. I was quite fond of his works, but after writing a 4000 word essay on a selection of his works I found myself a bit tired of him, oversaturated as I was at the time. After some time had passed, I found myself hankering for a bit more of his work, and I still hadn't gotten round to reading The Glass Bead Game yet.


The Glass Bead Game is the story of Joseph Knecht, an elite academic in a province known for its intellectual prowess and mastery of the eponymous glass bead game. Set out as a biography of him following a mysterious scandal and subsequent death, it follows his struggle between maintaining the intellectual purity of the Castalian society that he has grown up in, and preventing it from becoming irrelevant in its detachment from the politics of the outside world.
I wanted to like this more than I did. After feeling so moved by his writing in books like Beneath the Wheel and Steppenwolf, I had hoped that something similar would happen with The Glass Bead Game. As it is, I can appreciate it as a well-crafted critique of academia, but I'm not sure what appeal it would have to the everyday reader.
I feel that part of the reason that The Glass Bead Game resonated with me emotionally was the biography format. Firstly, this means that the structure is a bit on the odd side. While you'd normally get world-building and side stories woven throughout the narrative, the structure means that the main narrative is preceded by a general history of the glass bead game, and appended by the collected writings of the main character. As such, Joseph's story doesn't begin until page 47 and ends on page 425 out of 558. While I can understand wanting to use a format like a biography for immersion purposes, but it does feel very strange and disjointed. Secondly, I found that the academic tone meant that at times it does get very dense and slow-going. If you're looking for a book that challenges you, then this probably won't be a huge problem, but I could see it being a barrier for those looking for something lighter or more traditional.
For me personally, I found this more interesting in relation to the rest of his work, especially considering that my prior focus on his work was to do with identity and growth. If you're already a fan of Hesse's work, then The Glass Bead Game has some interesting parallels to other protagonists from his earlier work. I wouldn't start off with this if you've never read Hesse though, as it has a bit of a steep adjustment curve.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this to everyone, but if you're already a fan of Hesse's work, or you're willing to look past a rather disjointed and dense experience, then you could probably gain something from this. If you're looking for an introduction to Hesse's work though, I would recommend one of his earlier works before you tackle The Glass Bead Game. 3.5/5

Next review: The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart

Signing off,
Nisa.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

While I wasn't as enthused about the last installment as I had perhaps hoped, I was still quite looking forward to reading Wyrd Sisters, as Pratchett was definitely getting into the setting last time and I wanted to see what he would do with the witches as characters instead. 


Following the murder of the King of Lancre, the duplicitous Duke and his wife are determined to remove any evidence of their crime. This would normally mean killing off the late King's infant heir, but the infant ends up being protected by three witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick. This intervention on their part is only the beginning, as forces beyond their control conspire to push them into bringing the rightful heir to the throne. 
I had met Granny Weatherwax previously in the Discworld novels, but she works so well against other witches, especially Nanny Ogg. Even if the plot of Wyrd Sisters had been as weak as the last Discworld novel, it would have been well worth it for pretty much every scene that the witches are in. There aren't enough words to convey just how much these three characters work together, and I think I could possibly have been happy just reading their scenes. As it is, the rest of the plot is really quite strong, with some interesting riffs on the Macbeth style of coup d'etats that the story focuses on, and the beginning of a rather sweet romance. 
Honestly, I think the only weakness is that the parts dealing specifically with the acting troupe don't really work for me as much. But even that is kind of a stretch, seeing as they are still very entertaining and only really suffer for not having witches in it. 

Probably my favourite thus far. I would definitely bear with the weaker entries in the early part of the series if only for this entry. The witches are absolutely the best part of this and their chemistry would sell the book for me alone. The fact that the plot is pretty strong is an added bonus really. 5/5 

Next review: The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse 

Signing off, 
Nisa. 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend

There were two main reasons why I picked up The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year. Firstly, the title is really eye-catching, and it implied an equally interesting premise. Secondly, I remember reading the first of Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole series and enjoying it. So I thought that this would be a safe enough book to peruse.


When Eva Beaver's twins leave for university, she gets into bed after having to still pick up after her children and husband, even when they aren't there. Not intending to stay there for more than a few hours, she finds herself unable to bring herself to move out of her surprisingly comfortable bed. Now her husband, children and matriarchs on both sides of the family must figure out what to do with her, while Eva herself contents herself with thought and the unexpected sympathy of Alexander, the white van man.
The quotes on the front cover lie. Honestly, I think that this premise could have gone quite well. It's the old adage, "You don't know what you've got until it's gone." If this had been well-written, it could have been a touching lesson about valuing people for their contributions to the lives of those around them, and not by salary or intelligence. There could have been some comeuppance for the adulterous husband or the protagonist coming out of the experience with a new sense of what she wants in life and the drive to get it. What we instead get is the story of a woman who stays in bed for a year for no real reason other than she can, and in the process proving to be the straw that broke the camel's back when it comes to keeping her dysfunctional family together. I don't see what is funny about that. I don't see what's funny about a middle-aged man who can't properly look after himself and doesn't have anywhere near enough emotional intelligence to maintain not one, but two affairs whilst still a little in love with his wife. I don't see what's funny about two autistic teenagers who have to deal with university life in general, a psychotic compulsive-liar for a room-mate, and the extremely public fallout of their mother's choice to hermit herself away. And I certainly don't see what's funny about a woman who is so determined to stay in bed that she pushes away the entire world, to the point where her doctors find no other option but to section her. Honestly, anyone who actually laughs because of this book must come from another planet, and I say that knowing that my sense of humour can be both utterly black at times and utterly bizarre at others. This is not a funny novel. End of story.
The other main thing that bothers me is that it just ends. I was hoping for an ending that would tie everything together and make the whole story make sense, but what I got instead was a year of Eva's life, no more and no less. What does it matter that the husband has given up completely and gone off to live with one of his mistresses, we never find out which. Why would we want to know what happened to the twins after they were apparently arrested? What possible reason would we have for wondering how they're going to stop that whole sectioning business from happening, because that shit doesn't just go away because hey you stopped doing the weird thing now. The ending is the mess that just tops off what was already a bit of a car crash anyway.

The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year is a complete embarrassment of a novel. Irritating characters with weak motivations do pretty much nothing but complain over the course of a year, and the ending adds to the pointlessness of the whole reading endeavour by wrapping up precisely nothing that had come up over the course of the narrative. It's a completely unfunny waste of time. Don't bother. 1/5

Next review: Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,
Nisa.