Book Review: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

As a sequel of sorts to American Gods and based on word of mouth that told me that this was very much unlike the much darker predecessor, I wasn’t sure what to expect, although, anything centred around Anansi promised to be charming.

The book started rather slowly with an intentionally boring character, Fat Charlie Nancy, who’s greatest stress was an embarrassing father, something many a teenager can sympathize with. Knowing what we know of his father, the trickster god Anansi – which Fat Charlie did not learn until his father’s death – made the dull circumstances of Charlie’s life oddly compelling as, at some point it was certain that things would change. Change came in the form of his brother, Spider, who was very much Charlie’s opposite and proceeded to take over Charlie’s life, literally, with everyone falling in love with Spider, including Charlie’s fiance.

From there, the story continued on a reasonably expected path, with Charlie growing increasingly upset with his brother’s infiltration, until suddenly, the mythology of the Anansi stories and the reality truly came crashing together in odd and unpredictable ways that resulted in a book that I’m adding to my favourites list, if only for the strange smile it left me with.

I’ve known Anansi stories, but some how, I won’t look at spiders the same way again. Charlie and Spider are fascinating characters and their twisted relationship with each other and with their father is frustrating and endearing at the same time.

I understand now why Neil Gaiman is a favourite among fans. His imagination is immense and enjoyable. His reimagining of mythologies is impressive. Special consideration for the accurate portrayal of delightful old Jamaican ladies!


Graphic Novel Review: Eat the Dead by Siddharth Kotian

Eat The Dead by Siddharth Kotian Last night while gaming with friends, I read this during moments in our mission where people were leveling or working on adding enhancements to their character before moving on to our next missions. The story took place in India and played around with the Aghoris.

If you’re not familiar with them, they’re followers of Shiva who believe everything is sacred, everything comes from “God.” They’re known for their cannibalism. They eat corpses because they believe that keeps them in touch with “God” and that it helps them to transcend their earthly body and keeps them in touch with the universal mind. Other than that, they’re vegetarians. I knew this before I read the book because I have intense interest in theology and the beliefs of people. And it was cool to see it in the comic.

I think Kotian did a very good job of explaining the Aghoris. And this book had a great premise surrounded around the Aghoris and the fate of five strangers who (most of them unaware, except one) are trying to “better their karma” by breaking a negative karmic circle that they began together in a former life hundreds of years ago. But because it was a one shot the story suffered greatly. It just wasn’t meant to be a one-shot, in my opinion.

The descriptions of the the Aghoris and a creature called the Adrika were well-written. However, you don’t get a chance to care about the characters like you ought to, and these were characters you definitely needed to know more about, especially Joel, for this story to be as gripping as it could’ve been. In other words, it would’ve benefited from being more than a one-shot. (And that bitter ex-boyfriend hate text that Raj wrote could’ve been taken out because we got he hated his girlfriend for breaking up with him. Something else could’ve filled that space… LOL)

Some one-shot horror comics work, but there was too much going on this for me to feel completely satisfied with it. So even though I said I’d give it a 2.5, it’s on the lower end of that. a8c10-new2-5stars

Book Review: Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Simply put, this is a vampire novel. A young boy who shows repressed homicidal tendencies befriends a vampire named Eli, a friendship that forces his whole world to change. I’m sure everyone knows that by now, but unlike so many vampire novels today, there’s nothing sparkly or darkly seductive about this world. It’s evil, twisted, and ugly.

The ugliness of it all is what made this compelling. This is a fairly fast-paced read despite the page count, crafted so well. The story makes you want to keep turning as you read about horror after horror, defeat after defeat. And yes, in some of this, you do feel a sense of triumph when bad things happened to the characters who “deserve” it in this book.

I wanted to say that the characters in this novel have few redeeming qualities, but while some of these characters are truly disgusting human beings, most of them are just people struggling against poverty, alcholism, and other real world problems. Their lives become so entwined with each other because of Eli. You do manage to feel some sympathy toward some of the characters, but that doesn’t take away from the ugliness of this story.


Book Review: Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

Christine Lucas, the protagonist of this psychological thriller, has a problem. Years ago, an accident robbed her of her ability to retain day-to-day memories. Each night, her mind erases everything when she goes to sleep, and most days when she wakes, she is unable to remember anything past her young adult years. Her husband Ben is a stranger beside her in the bed she wakes up in every morning, and she is unfamiliar with the middle-aged face she sees in the mirror, still believing herself to be in her early 20s.

Ben does his best to help her cope, keeping her grounded by guiding her through each day with photos, scrapbooks and patience. Then one day, Christine discovers she has been working secretly with a doctor, who has been encouraging her to document each day in her journal. Using it to piece together daily events, she discovers there is more to her past, a past that her husband may have been keeping from her. What do you do when the only person you can trust is only telling you half the story? What can you believe when you don’t even trust your own memories?

Before I go to Sleep is like 50 First Dates meets Memento, a dramatic tale that very quickly transforms into a suspenseful, psychological thriller. It is hard to believe this is a debut novel, since beneath the twists and turns lies a very complex theme, a darker truth that many would find difficult to think about. If what makes a person is their lifetime of memories, who are we if we can’t recall our lives or even ourselves? Not being able to remember anything is a scary thought. On the one hand, while painful or disturbing memories can be abandoned each night, so will the memories of all the happy times and of those you love. It’s a little bit like dying every night, and when I really think about it, I can’t help but sympathize with Christine even more.

Given the premise of the novel, I was really curious as to how the author would handle the narrative. Not surprisingly, I found it a little awkward and confusing, but it was nonetheless well executed and better than I had hoped. After a while, I started getting used to the style and structure, and decided in the end that it was the best possible way to tell this story in light of the challenges it presents.

I thought this was a good mystery novel, with a very emotional build up to a startling and explosive conclusion. The only problem with this is that sometimes, I felt like the book was genre-confused, not knowing whether or not it wanted to be a heartfelt drama, or a suspenseful thriller. In the end, I guess it is a little bit of both. If I had known this beforehand, I probably would have liked this book even more, but as it is, I often found myself perplexed with its pacing while I was reading. Some parts of the beginning and middle felt a bit slow, while the ending was anything but.

Still, Before I go to Sleep succeeds at being an entertaining and enjoyable read. It is probably one of the more original stories I’ve read so far this year, and more thought-provoking than I expected.


Graphic Novel Review: Kingdom Come by Mark Waid

Kingdom Come by Mark Waid

Never have I respected Superman as much as I did after reading this comic. Superman and I have a rocky relationship. I have never been a big fan of his because he’s just too perfect. And I have a hard time caring for perfect characters. I won’t go into that rant again. This isn’t about that.

This is set in an AU (alternate universe). Superman has retreated to solitude after a hero named Magog is acquitted of killing Joker—who went on a killing spree in Metropolis, a bender that resulted in Lois’ death. When humanity expresses that Magog is where superheroism should go, Superman leaves them to that, seeming to lose quite a bit of faith in people.

Shortly thereafter, humanity learns that heroes left unchecked terrorize the just and the unjust alike and aren’t too different from the “villains.” They only care about fighting and destroying what they personally perceive as threats to the people (such as one “hero” attacking immigrants), much of which is personal prejudices and biases.

Then, Wonder Woman appeals to Superman to come back after a devastating battle between the “good” guys and the “bad” guys leaves Kansas in ruins and millions dead. Reluctantly, Superman returns, but things don’t go as smoothly as hoped when he’s faced with opposition from this new school of heroes, enemies, and even old allies, namely Batman.

This seemed to be a commentary on old school superhero comics versus today’s ultra-violent, grim “heroes” who seem more intent on destroying half the city than saving human lives with Superman representing how heroes used to be and Magog representing these new “heroes.”

I thought it was interesting (and superb storytelling) that the story isn’t told from any of the heroes’ point of views. Instead, the story is told by Norman McCay, a minister and a friend of Sandman who has “inherited” Sandman’s powers after his death. McCay is struggling with his faith and, like Superman, has lost some faith in humanity. Before his death, Wesley Dodds (Sandman) had apocalyptic visions that most people thought were the result of senility. He passed these visions on to McCay.

A being known as Spectre uses McCay to bear witness to the madness unfolding between the heroes and tells him that he must ultimately pass judgment on them, to decide who is right and who is wrong, a decision that proves difficult because both sides start making rash decisions in this “war.”

And while logically, readers know that Magog is wrong (and even that plays interestingly into the story), you can’t say the old school heroes are completely “right” either. Some of them, such as Wonder Woman, have their own reasons behind that fight as well, causing them to be as brutal and decisive as the new heroes. And you can even somewhat see the new heroes reasoning for their actions.

Superman is presented very human here, making it hard for me to hold a grudge against him. He’s a man who has lost a lot, and even though he won’t admit it, he’s living in some kind of bubble that filters out the rest of the world. He reluctantly comes out of retirement and makes tough decisions, while questioning if this is really what it’s come to.

And the ending, wow. I actually got a little misty-eyed there, and I’m not even that familiar with Shazam or his exploits. And the art really was able to pull out a lot of emotion in this story. It was breathtaking, enhancing an already well-written tale. Overall, this was a great read. Definitely goes on my favorites list.


Book Review: Hexed by Kevin Hearne

Atticus O’Sullivan lives an interesting life. On the surface, he’s an ordinary young man, making his living as a New Age book store/tea shop owner in Tempe, Arizona. In actuality, Atticus is a 2100-year-old druid, the last of his kind.

Just weeks after his harrowing run-in with an ancient Celtic god who was trying to kill him, Atticus’s life is threatened again — only this time, the bad guys are a coven of dangerous witches with a dark past, and they’re going after his friends too. And as if that wasn’t enough, a fallen angel is eating students at a local high school, Bacchants have come to town to wreak havoc and debauchery, and an angry albeit sexy Celtic goddess is setting fire to his kitchen. What is a druid to do?

Hexed is a fun, charming and worthy follow-up to the first book. All the action and humor that made Hounded such a great read is back for this second installment.

That said, so are the things I wasn’t so keen on. First let me just say that I like the fact that Atticus is different, and that he doesn’t act the way you’d think a 2100-year-old protagonist should. Still, for someone so ancient, he remains disappointingly shallow. For the most part, I enjoy his frat boy humor and his attmempts to make light of a situation with references to pop culture, but the old adage “too much of a good thing” comes to mind. The ironic thing is, it starts making Atticus feel less realistic to me and more fabricated. Perhaps when you start acting more modern and cracking more geek jokes than any other contemporary urban fantasy protagonist out there, it might do to dial things down a bit. I for one would love to see more of his millennia old wisdom come through just a little more.

The story, while enjoyable, also felt less coherent than the last one. Just like Hounded, Hexed was great in that its plot was made up of multiple threads, each action-packed and interesting in their own way, but it didn’t come together as well as I’d hoped. Reading it almost felt like reading three separate short stories that were related, but didn’t tie together very smoothly.

One thing I did like was seeing more of Atticus’s problem solving process. A criticism I had about the last book was how he seemed too powerful to ever be in any real danger, thus removing some of the element of suspense. In Hexed, however, some of his weaknesses came to light. He is still very powerful, but there were more situations in which he found himself with his back against the wall in very real trouble, or needed some help or rescuing from a friend. It shows some of his resourcefulness, and you start to gain an understanding of how he was able to survive and adapt for so long.

All in all, a good book and a decent sequel, and I’m looking forward to picking up the third installment. Recommended for fans of urban fantasy who are looking for some fun, light reading.


Book Review: Hounded by Kevin Hearne

On the surface, everything about Atticus O’Sullivan appears ordinary. Early 20s, good-looking, and living in Tempe, Arizona, he shares his house with his Irish Wolfhound Oberon, bikes to work and runs a New Age bookstore/tea shop. No one suspects that Atticus is actually a 2100-year-old druid, the last of his kind.

The truth is, he has been on the run for centuries, guarding a mystical sword from a Celtic god who is trying to kill him. But over time, Atticus has grown quite powerful himself. It’s time to bring the fight to the enemy, and with a little bit of help from his friends, Atticus might just survive this to live a little longer.

A new book by a new author, I remember why this book got my attention. After browsing for a while, I eventually picked it up because it seemed like everywhere I looked, the consensus is the same: “Recommended for fans of the Dresden Files.”

I can see why — both are narrated by a male protagonist in the first person with a modern, “hip” voice. Both are humorous and full of pop culture and geek references. Harry Dresden has a talking skull named Bob, Atticus O’Sullivan has an Irish wolfhound he talks to named Oberon. They both keep paranormal company like werewolves, witches and vampires. In each story there’s always some bad guy trying to kill them, leading to much action and magical combat. It’s inevitable that comparisons will be drawn between these two series.

Atticus, however, is over two millennia old and a druid. And despite taking place in modern day Tempe, Arizona, Hounded is steeped in ancient Celtic mythology and culture.

I had a lot of fun reading this book. I was pleasantly surprised to find it better than the average debut urban fantasy novel, though I still have my criticisms. Atticus can be a bit too smug for my taste, and while for the most part hilarious, at times of the dialogue and references can feel a bit forced. I understand that Atticus is very successful at fitting in, but it still almost feels as if the author is overcompensating in trying to make readers believe it.

I am also curious as to how this series will progress in terms of character development. Obviously, Atticus is very powerful, what with a couple thousands years under his belt to perfect his art. Throughout the course of the novel, one realizes he has “faults” but not real faults, because regardless, a very simple solution always presents itself in good time. This to me is the difference between this book and the Dresden Files. One thing I love about Harry Dresden is the character growth we see in him with each subsequent novel. He is a flawed protagonist with limits to his power, often surrounded by foes more powerful and skilled than he is, and there is a healthy level of suspense because the reader gets the feeling he is in constant danger. As he overcomes his challenges, we get to see Harry grow as a character and see his magic skills increase as the series progresses.

To be honest, I don’t know if we’ll get to see a lot of that in the Iron Druid Chronicles. When you can turn into an owl and fly away, heal your wounds by making contact with the earth, or make anything invisible you don’t want seen, Atticus does seem to already have a magical solution for every problem, or have friends that do and help him clean up. There were also some plot gaps and situations that lacked resolution, but they were also conveniently explained away.

Still, I am very interested to see how things will turn out. Like I said, it was a fun read overall, and it’s always refreshing to read a good new urban fantasy novel. I will definitely be picking up the second book as well as the third.


Book Review: The Child Thief by Brom

The Child Thief by Brom

While I think from just reading the summary, most people know they are not walking into a completely black and white, good vs evil, story. You know that it will be somewhere in between, that there is a lot of gray area in this story. And boy was it ever.

Brom took this fairytale and crafted such a complex, dark story of two sides who essentially want the same thing, but both going about their own misguided way of doing it, doing what they feel they need to do to survive and win. And while Peter’s side is arguably the right side, the other side led by The Captain (and “led” is used loosely here because the Captain actually came to be a likable, competent character who is helpless against greater forces at work) isn’t as simple and as evil as you’d think they’d be.

Wonderful book. I expected a very dark tale, but I didn’t expect to get so emotionally invested in the story of Peter, his Devils (the Lost Boys), Avalon (Neverland), or the flesh-eaters (the Captain and his crew). I shed more than a few tears and laughs with this book. Brom weaved such a wonderful world to explore. I wished the story would’ve gone and followed them more after their big battle, but then again, I’m glad Brom allowed my imagination to decide what happens next.

Easily a favorite. And Brom’s illustrations were breathtaking. I loved his Sekeu the best and that’s definitely how she appeared in my mind.


Book Review: Wayward Son by Tom Pollack

Everything changes early one morning when Dr. Amanda James gets a call from an old college flame and fellow archaeologist, beseeching her to travel to Italy to help solve the puzzle of a mysterious set of bronze doors at a new dig site. Much to her surprise and bemusement, Amanda also receives an offer of stardom and celebrity from billionaire Luc Renard on the same day. The only catch? The job is in Tokyo, requiring Amanda to leave everything of her life behind including her current work at the Getty Museum. Unable to turn her back on archaeology and all the research that she loves, she turns down the offer, but Renard is not someone used to taking no for an answer…

At the dig site in Italy, Amanda takes up the challenge solving the secret of the bronze doors. Sealed by a code inscribed in ancient languages including Chinese and Egyptian, the researchers believe the doors should open up to an underground vault buried beneath a hundred feet of ash from the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius. Once inside, Amanda discovers a room full of relics, including two unknown figures eternally locked in what appears to have been a struggle, killed and frozen in time by the volcanic effusion.

It is then Amanda suddenly experiences a shocking vision — the life and times of the notorious Biblical figure Cain. Through her visions, she learns the truth — that Cain actually walked the earth for thousands of years, cursed for the murder of his brother. Trapped in his immortal life, this is a story of Cain’s road to redemption and fight to resist the devil’s temptations.

At first, I thought I would love Wayward Son, based on my love for archaeology and the description of the book on various websites like Amazon and Goodreads. However, the book was nothing like I expected. Don’t get me wrong, this was a well written book with a rather creative story. My problem with it isn’t so much what the book was about, but with the way it was marketed.

From the synopsis, it sounded like a tale of suspense and adventure, something I would really love. As it turned out, this was not the case. I think I was initially drawn to these particular lines of the description: “Amanda is shocked to discover evidence left behind by a notorioius Biblical killer, who long ago wandered off the pages of history. When a strange relic unveils the miraculous truth about this villain, Amanda must battle sinister forces intent on suppressing her stunning revelation, before it alters the destiny of millions.”

While the beginning of the novel started off promising, I have to say that description did not actually reflect the content of the book at all. The bulk of the story itself is actually much more low-key and subdued, and not as heart-pumpingly exciting as the synopsis made it sound. The life of “Biblical killer” who turned out to be Cain played out more like a historical drama, and he wasn’t really portrayed like the “villain” as stated. While Wayward Son did have a touch of mystery and suspense, the description is unreliable. I would say this book would be more at home on a Christian fiction shelf.

I’m still glad I picked it up for the synopsis, misleading or not, because I don’t know if I would have read this book otherwise. It’s an intriguing read, though my only caveat to other potential readers, of course, is to be wary of the novel’s descriptions.


Book Review: Kraken by China Miéville

Kraken follows Bill Harrow, a researcher and scientist at the Museum of Natual History in London. An expert on mollusks, Billy was responsible for the preservation efforts of the museum’s most popular exhibits — the giant squid, affectionately nicknamed “Archie”. One day out of the blue, the gargantuan specimen goes missing, and Billy finds himself thrown into a side of London he never knew existed, a world of magic, secret cults, doomsday prophecies and supernatural creatures.

This novel, while technically can be considered urban fantasy, is certainly unlike anything I’ve seen in the genre. In fact, I can probably file this one under the “Weirdest books I’ve ever read” shelf. What an interesting experience for my first book by China Miéville, an author I’ve been hearing great things about from my friends and reader reviews.

In retrospect, I wonder if Kraken was such a good choice for my first taste of Miéville. For a while, I’d had my eyes on a couple of his well-known books, namely Perdido Street Station and The City & The City, but decided in the end to tackle something more recent. I’d been told beforehand by fans of Miéville, however, that Kraken is quite unlike many of his other books.

I thought I was prepared for anything, but this book was still nothing like I expected. The first quarter of the book was the most “normal” part, which set up the story and drew me in right away. After that, everything started spiraling out of control. More than a few times, I felt as confused as Billy.

But even as Kraken gets increasingly abstract, it is a strangeness that is familiar to me, one that is almost reminiscent of works by Neil Gaiman. It is a style I can appreciate, though probably not one I’d prefer if I was being honest with myself. Still, I was quite content with the actual story and its mystery, and I was particularly thrilled with the pop culture references like Star Trek, and the author incorporating a real life Tribble and an actual working phaser gun into this book.

In truth, it was the prose that somewhat disaffected me. China Miéville likes to use many words and he uses them very well, but too much of that and it can quickly get out of hand. At some parts of the book, this kills the momentum completely, making it difficult to connect with the world of the characters when you’re frequently distracted by so much that is superfluous to the main story. By the the time I got to the final chapters, I realized all I wanted to do was get the book over with and find out what happens so I could move on.

I’m definitely planning to read more from the author
, but in the future I would probably choose more carefully. Kraken had a good start, and featured some interesting ideas and a great premise, but reading it was a little exhausting despite the fact it’s not an overly long book. Still, I hear Miéville has quite a varied writing style and I’m looking forward to checking out some of his other more straightforward works.