Thursday, 4 November 2010

Recommendations and Reviews of Recent Readings

I tend to always have a book on the go, the consequence of an inability to fall sleep without reading something and a low boredom threshold when waiting for public transport. My reading material over the past few months has been mostly horror-related, so I thought I'd post up some brief reviews before forgetfulness takes over. Here goes! (List ordered roughly by date of reading.)


AUTHOR: Steven Jay Schneider (General Editor)

REASON FOR BUYING: Wanted some ideas for good horror films to watch. Nice glossy pictures. Could double as doorstop.

LOOK OF THE BOOK: Compact and shiny; well-designed.

ANY GOOD? Yep - does what it says on the tin. The films are listed in chronological order, which makes it easy to identify cycles of horror films, and to see which directors may have influenced others' works. Each movie is given equal space - two pictures (poster and a still), a short two-page description and analysis and some details of cast and crew. The overviews are written by contributors of a high calibre, mainly academics and film critics. Despite the fact that there is an abundance of lists of this kind on the web, I still feel that this was ten quid well spent. And you can't use the internet as a doorstop.

TITLE: Strangers on a Train

AUTHOR: Patricia Highsmith

REASON FOR BUYING: Liked the film; didn't have to pay for this book - nicked it from my dad.

LOOK OF THE BOOK: Pleasant, modern monochrome design.

ANY GOOD? A resounding yes. Highsmith is a fantastic suspense writer - I've read other novels of hers in which nothing much actually happens, yet by which I've sill been utterly gripped. Strangers on a Train is the story of a man striving desperately to extricate himself from a situation, but getting drawn in further despite his exertions. Some of the details of the plot will be familiar to those who have seen Hitchcock's film, but happily that adaptation differs from the book enough that there are still surprises in store for readers who have already seen the movie. A superb read and highly recommended!

TITLE: Velocity

AUTHOR: Dean Koontz

REASON FOR BUYING: Needed a book to read whilst working at a festival; it was in a charity shop and therefore cheap.

LOOK OF THE BOOK: Intriguing ransom-note cover; deceptively chunky.

ANY GOOD? So far from good, it's possible that Darth Vader could use it a rebel-torturing technique, should his choking powers have an off day. The characters are paper-thin, the dialogue between them risible, and the decision to develop the plot almost solely through the experiences of the main character results in the whole exercise feeling like a mildly gruesome "What I Did On My Holidays" school essay. The only reason I managed to finish it is that it's so bloody short. Through the employment of large type, enormous margins and more chapters than you can shake a stick at, this jumped-up short story has been stretched out to cover a mind-boggling 500 pages. There's an actual risk of repetitive strain injury because of the frequency of page-turning. Avoid.

TITLE: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

AUTHOR: Mark Haddon

REASON FOR BUYING: Many accolades received by book; in a charity shop and therefore cheap (I am thrifty)

LOOK OF THE BOOK: Lively blue cover, strangely endearing illustration of dog impaled by garden fork.

ANY GOOD? Yes - it's an engaging, funny and touching book. (Not a horror, mind, although a dog does get murdered.) Christopher - a 15-year-old who has Asperger's - finds the body of his neighbour's dog and, inspired by his hero Sherlock Holmes, decides to solve the mystery of its death. However, his investigation uncovers a great deal more than he expected. Has chapters headed with prime numbers, which is quite cool and also instructive.

TITLE: Under the Dome

AUTHOR: Stephen King

REASON FOR BUYING: Try to read most King books; nifty choice of covers.

LOOK OF THE BOOK: Old bloke looking pensive in a rather nice shirt.

ANY GOOD? Hmmm... it's a tricky one. Pros: interesting premise; good pace; fairly gripping. Cons: some ridiculous dialogue; plot inconsistencies; rather flat ending. For such a long book it feels somewhat shallow - there is very little in the way of backstory, unlike some of King's earlier works (for example, the town histories in The Tommyknockers and IT.) There are quite a few similarities between this novel and The Stand (isolated communities, taking of good / evil sides and the Trashcan Man-esque character of The Chef.) Under the Dome definitely suffers by comparison, and unfortunately comes across as something of a Stand-lite. Not nearly as bad as Cell though, so there's that.

TITLE: The Mind Beyond

AUTHOR: Irene Shubik (Editor)

REASON FOR BUYING: Short stories by well-known authors; portable volume.

LOOK OF THE BOOK: Nice old orange-spined Penguin; proper creepy cover.

ANY GOOD? The Mind Beyond is a collection of short stories from the '70s TV series of the same name, of which I'd never heard. The theme is general freakiness of the brain - telepathy, precognition, telekinesis and the like. It's a pleasantly eerie collection; I especially enjoyed the Daphne du Maurier story "The Breakthrough." Science gone crazy! The TV show can be seen here:
"The Mind Beyond" on the YouTube

TITLE: The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vol. 11

AUTHOR: Eiji Otsuka (story) Housui Yamazaki (art)

REASON FOR BUYING: Am a long-time follower of the series.

LOOK OF THE BOOK: Mugshot-style pictures of the main characters; plot-related drawing in the top-left corner.

ANY GOOD? Hell yeah! I love this series, and would recommend it to any fan or horror, comics or both. Kurosagi centres around five university students whose various skills enable them to find and communicate with the dead. Whilst the subject matter is quite morbid, and the imagery often gory, it's never excessive. The plots often touch upon contemporary social issues, or are used to explore the significance of old customs or historic events. It's gruesome, witty, complex and sometimes plain weird. The artwork is also fantastic!

TITLE: The Secret of Crickley Hall

AUTHOR: James Herbert

Ah, Crickley Hall. This one's getting a slightly longer review, so it'll have to wait for another time. Thought I'd best say something about it though, as it is in the picture. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Walking Dead: TV show episode 1

Being a comic book fan, I'm a little disappointed in myself that I haven't noticed the Walking Dead series. I can only suppose that I've been preoccupied with buying House of Mystery and Sweet Tooth, and moaning about Air being axed. But blessed be! The Walking Dead has now been transmogrified into the significantly cheaper (for me) format of a televisual spectacular.

Spectacular it certainly is. Episode one packs in gunfights, gridlocked highways, fields of corpses, fantastically gruesome zombie hoards and tons of aerial shots of the lovely American countryside. It's visually stunning, especially the SFX used to create a certain semi-zombie who spends her screen-time enjoying a nice crawl in the park.

In terms of plot, it starts off pretty much as 28 Days Later Goes to America. Dude's in hospital, dude wakes up in post-apocalyptic hell-hole, finds a bit of shelter, makes a few friends. That being said, it's as good a way as any to kick-start a zombie drama, so I'm inclined to overlook the slight lack of originality.

Now, casting... to British viewers of a '90s vintage, Andrew Lincoln will always be, in our hearts, Egg from This Life. To see the chap you always envisaged as a Northern, London-dwelling law-graduate slacker show up as a gun-toting U.S. sheriff's deputy is a slight shock to the system. To add to the weirdness, Lennie James (who I most vividly recall as a cockney geezer in Snatch), then appears in similar nationality-bending mode. However, this quickly ceased to bother me, which is a testament to strong performances and (to my ears, at least) convincing accents. The good folks of the U.S.A. will naturally have to be the judge of said accents, but Hugh Laurie and those blokes off of The Wire seem to have gotten away with it, so signs look good.

To sum up briefly... The Walking Dead: 28 Days Later meets Dawn of the Dead meets Preacher. Complete with horse. I'm certainly giving episode two a whirl.