Wednesday, 27 July 2011

What I've been reading: Preacher: Gone to Texas - Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon

Dragon Rating: Couple of houses alight, over here...

 Yes, okay. Watch me sacrifice the last of my tenuous geek credentials as I admit that, no, I've not read any Preacher before. And, I know I've said in the past that I'm a stories girl, but what first struck me about this was - wow. This artwork is beautiful.

Not beautiful in the "ooh, pretty," kind of way - although with their subject matter it would have been easy to slip into eye-candy mode (brooding, almost anti-hero, trigger happy ex-girlfriend, angels...) but no. Even in the gross bits, this is beautiful; truly, fascinatingly, horribly beautiful. So it was the art kept me fixed, at least for the first arc of the story.

But still, over and above it all, I'm a stories girl. And, apologies to any rabid fans, but the earlier sections just didn't do it for me, first time round. A slow burner, it took a while for it... not to get going, but for it to capture my interest.

Actually, if you're curious, I can tell you the exact moment that I got hooked. It's just into the second story arc: Jesse and Cassidy are standing at the top of the Empire State Building, talking about responsibility. The artwork, again, is lovely - aesthetically pleasing as well as brilliant - and Jesse is being every inch the brooding anti-hero. This is the most high-blown and preachy we've seen him in the whole course of the book as he talks about absolute power, absolute corruption, sin and hellfire. This is a momentous moment, for the reader, as well as the characters when we find out, proud little redneck that he is, our MC is a pretty decent bloke and his sleazy vampire sidekick is really alright, too.

And, because he's a blood good writer, Ennis is not afraid to puncture the mood with a bathetic comment about penises. And, because he's a bloody good artist, Dillon let's us know it's okay to find it funny.

After that, I wasn't just reading for a vague sense of interest as to what happened next, after that, I gave a damn. Because suddenly, I knew I wasn't dealing with a bunch of straw men with superpowers who just happened to be drawn by an excellent artist. No, after that, I was dealing with real people  who - however much they screw up or act like arseholes - have got me on their side.

I admit, there is probably some kind of formula for winning readers like me. It goes along the lines of  'tough guy bullshit, followed by displayed decency, followed by humour.' I might go so far as to say that this kind of formula is being exploited here. But without skill a formula like that is stale and transparent and this... No. I only notice this while writing about it.

Good show, gentlemen, and an excellent beginning. Can't wait to see what happens next....

Friday, 22 July 2011

No book reviews or mini-essays for the moment. Ill and labouring under a misguided and jaded attitude which makes me see the flaws in everything. A review that just says 'disappointing' is not the intention of this blog.

I'll try again when I'm feeling better. For the moment, I'll just read the flawless Dianna Wynne Jones.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

What I've been reading: Iron Man: War of the Iron Men - Fred van Lente & Steve Kurth

Dragon Rating: Steady Hearth Fire

I'm not actually going to review this much beyond the fact that I read it and I enjoyed it. Before it goes back to the library, I'm going to read it again to look over the art-work in more depth - the way that I always do with comic books - although the general impression it left was favourable if not remarkable. Anyway, I'm not an art critic, I'm a stories person. And I can't really justify much comment on the story. 

Sure, the political aspects interested me, although I did feel that the presentation of Stark's dilemmas were... not perfectly realised. But that's all I'll say.

The reasons for this reticence are to do with relationship it Marvel Comics and the honest admission that I am not a proper geek. I like Marvel Comics, and always have liked Marvel Comics, in the same way that I will assert that I have always liked, say, dolphins because, well... who can have a problem with dolphins? Dolphins are cool.

But my contact with them has been fleeting.

As a kid, I would read anything that came my way. This included the odd Avengers, or Spiderman comic. Between these and the animated series they showed on Saturday mornings, I gathered the basics of who most of the characters were. Then, when I was a young teen, a lot of the films were coming out. I've always preferred books to films so, as well as seeing them, I read a little bit more deeply into the Marvel canon, but still, I barely scratched the surface. I only really became a comic fan in my late teens, mostly through the DC Vertigo titles. I've always been uncomfortably aware of this gap in my knowledge but... trade paperbacks are expensive, and there's just so much I didn't even know where to start.

Then, about six months ago, the universe started leaving Marvel titles in my way. Yesterday, as I took the toddler to a pre-school group at the local library, I found this on a chair in the kids section. I borrowed it and I read it and it was good. Not mind-blowing, but solid and well told. I think the time has come to close the Marvel gap.

So, where next?

Thursday, 14 July 2011

What I've been reading: Garden Spells - Sarah Addison Allen

Okay, the main idea of this blog was to be book reviews. Thus far I've done two quasi literary political rants and nothing else. For this, good people, my apologies. I shall endeavour to shape up in future.

So. Garden Spells:

Dragon Rating: Fair sized conflagration:

I got round to reading this book after much nagging from my sister. My first thought was that both the setting and easy sense of wonder were reminiscent of Poppy Z. Brite's work, although Allen (Addison Allen? Um. Yeah, anyway) lacks something of Brite's darkness. On reflection, Allen's handling of her themes - family, home, identity, female relationships - reminded me of Barbara Kingsolver and Fannie Flag, but once again it was these writers minus something; the stark portrayal of poverty, the political awareness, and, as ever - those moral grey areas.

That was my main problem with the book really. No darkness and no moral grey. The main threat that drives the novel - Sidney's abusive ex-partner - lacks depth. He is the only character not given any interiority by the author. I'm not saying I wanted any sympathy for him, but we learn nothing of his drives - other than that he is a bully - his history, anything. It's as one of the characters says: his life has no purpose of its own - he had no purpose other than to drive Sidney back to her childhood home.

And, by making him a figure of sheer, almost faceless, malice Allen creates less of a character than an authorial cipher for 'bad masculinity'.Which I could forgive, except the 'good men' are also without real depth. David is a bad man ... because... just because. And the good men are good men because... they were raised by good people? Um... Or if they weren't, then they're gay because we're open minded and that's alright. 

As I say. Not fully convinced.

But parts of the book are lovely. Highlights, for me, were troubled, 5 year old Bay- whose voice was admirably convincing; and Evanelle - the lecherous, crazy magic lady. Both of them had such a delightful blend of tragedy, joie de vivre and outright humour to them that they alone would have made this a worthwhile read.

What's more, those aren't the only strong points. The microcosm of small-town life with its wealth of  family mythologies and feuds is wonderfully portrayed, as were the manifold depictions of love. The sections which dealt with 'food as magic' was a sheer delight. Less impressive were some sections of dialogue, especially when emotion was being discussed (surely no-one is that open), and I found the resolution of the Emma/ Hunter John story arch a little forced. But generally, if you're not wanting anything too heavy, it's a grand little read.

Verdict: I think I will read Addison's latest The Sugar Queen although it will be a borrow, not a buy. And, I'm really going to have to  make my sister read Lost Souls.