Triple Graphic Novel Review!

As the year winds down, I realize that I don’t have many more weeks to post my 2017 reviews. Lately, I’ve been checking out quite a few graphic novels from my local library. It was a lot of fun reading these books over a weekend. All three of these were really good (and quite twisted too).

44. The House That Groaned by Karrie Fransman

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When Barbara moves into her new apartment at 141 Rottin Road, she has no idea that the Victorian building houses some rather unique individuals. There’s Brian, who is only sexually attracted to women who are either dying or have some incurable disease. Then there’s Janet who is obsessed with weight loss. Another neighbor feels so invisible that she literally blends into her surroundings. Did I mention the lady upstairs who embraces a hedonistic lifestyle of eating and debauchery? Each of these residents is very lonely and possess a dark secret. The House That Groaned is a delightfully twisted book that explores our bodies and the spaces we inhabit.

I was initially attracted to this book for its awesome cover of the building itself with real cut-out windows. The art style in the rest of the book is unlike anything I’ve read before in a graphic novel. Fransman uses a dark blue palette with all of her characters drawn with very pronounced cheeks. She also doesn’t shy away from nudity or gore, both in abundance here and works well with the more beautiful side of life that she creates.

I loved getting to know all of these characters from a psychological perspective. As the story progresses, we get flashbacks into each of their lives revealing a dark secret. Each revelation pertains to their physical bodies (either how they see themselves or others). I love graphic novels that are about real social issues! Sometimes the truth is hard to look at but necessary as Fransman’s art and words blend together beautifully. Also, I love how the building itself serves as a character in its own right.

This is a quick read that can be finished in under an hour. However, I still feel like Fransman created a complete story. As I was reading, I had no idea where the story was going and had to stop for a moment during a pivotal scene where everything started happening fast. It was very shocking! I will definitely check this author out again in the future.

45. Coraline: The Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman

IMG_0231[1]Although I’m a huge Gaiman fan and have watched the film of this story a couple of times, I’ve actually never read the book. Coraline Jones and her parents have just moved into a very old house in the countryside. Every day, Coraline finds herself quite bored. Her parents are both too busy to pay her the attention she craves while her neighbors can’t even get her name right (they call her Caroline). When she is given the task to explore and outline their new home, she finds a mysterious door that opens into a brick wall. One night, she discovers the wall is gone and the door leads her into a twisted version of her own home. There’s another mother there and another father, and they want Coraline to stay with them. Forever.

Gaiman’s dark children’s story is brought to life wonderfully by P. Craig Russell. The illustrations are beautifully rendered and detailed. There is a richness of color during the daytime scenes while the nighttime ones are extremely creepy and dark. I particularly love how Coraline’s “Other Mother” is drawn.

Gaiman’s stories are always so much fun, but he also always captures humanity so well. Russell does an excellent job of preserving the emotion of the original story while enhancing it with his great illustrations. If you are a Gaiman fan, or just love dark fantasy in general, I highly recommend this book.

46. The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

Image result for the night bookmobileAlexandra, also known as Lexi, first discovers the Night Bookmobile after she has an argument with her boyfriend and spends the night walking the streets of her city. In the middle of the night, she finds parked an old Winnebago blasting some of her favorite music. As it turns out, the vehicle is a library run by the enigmatic Mr. Openshaw. This mysterious bookmobile is special because the only literature it contains are books that Lexi has read during her lifetime. As the Night Bookmobile leaves for the night, Lexi becomes determined to read as much as she can and to become night librarian herself.

This is a book for all of us lovers of books out there. It is beautifully drawn. I love all of the little details relating to the bookmobile, like how every time Lexi finds it again, the building has grown to encompass everything she has read since the last visit. A particular book becomes blank at the point where she abandoned it. It also contains anything non-book related that she has read, such as old cereal boxes.

This is another short work, but is so very emotionally rewarding. The ending is both disturbing but beautiful at the same time. The Night Bookmobile is a great book about the relationships we develop with books and what we are willing to sacrifice for that love.

“Each spine was an encapsulated memory, each book represented hours, days of pleasure, of immersion into words.” –The Night Bookmobile

 

Have you read any of these books? I’d love to know your thoughts! Please comment below!

 

 

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43. ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson

I needed to read a work of horror for this year’s Back to the Classics challenge. Of course, everyone knows this tale about a good scientist who unleashes his hedonistic persona with disastrous results. I was impressed with how well this story still resonates with meaning even today. This is another great work from the wonderful Robert Louis Stevenson. 

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The friends of Dr. Henry Jekyll are quite worried about his recent erratic behaviors. Not only has he made the acquaintance of the dark and twisted Edward Hyde, but Jekyll has now left his fortune to him! Hyde seems to be a constant presence in Jekyll’s home and laboratory while Jekyll himself disappears for long stretches at a time. What is the mysterious hold that Hyde has over the good doctor?

It was an interesting experience reading this book for the first time but knowing the story in advance. Through the numerous versions that have pervaded our media, we all know how Jekyll and Hyde are connected. However, it was interesting to think about how nobody knew this upon its original release Although clues are scattered throughout, the actual identity of Jekyll’s mysterious counterpart is not revealed until the end.

Despite the shortness of the book, I found it took me a while to get engaged with the material. Most of the story is told from the perspectives of Jekyll’s friends. Stevenson made the right choice to narrate it from others’ perspectives. He also does well at character development for both Jekyll and Hyde. I especially loved how when we are first introduced to him, Hyde is small and weak looking. His strength grows as he gains more control over Jekyll. Stevenson manages to say quite a lot about the nature of identity and the balance between our good and evil sides.

From a personal perspective, this book is rather meaningful to me. Jekyll’s condition is often made to resemble someone battling addiction. As someone who has fought an addiction (and still fights), reading this book made me consider my own internal struggles. Recently, I had a huge relapse brought on by losing someone close to me. It continues to be a daily struggle. Sometimes I really do feel like two people. There’s the balanced and educated writer of this blog. Then there’s my darker half who has his tendencies of having reckless fun and being self-destructive.

I really hope the first guy wins. Sometimes it’s nice being Hyde but that road never ends well.

My edition also contained some of Stevenson’s short stories. The favorite for me was the three-part “Suicide Club” about this dark meeting of men who voluntarily play a card game which will end in one of their deaths by another member. The first part is quite chilling and again reminded me of the self-destructive behaviors we often engage in when we struggle with finding true meaning in our lives.

“Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.”

Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts! Please comment below!

 

2018 TBR Pile Challenge

This year isn’t even over, and I’m already planning ahead for challenges for next year! After a two-year hiatus (while he worked on his doctoral dissertation), Adam over at RoofBeamReader.com is resurrecting his TBR Pile Challenge.

The rules are quite simple: Select 12 books that have been sitting on your shelves for at least one year. These books have to be listed by January 15, 2018 in order to officially take part in the challenge. Also, don’t worry in case you struggle with finishing one or two of the books on your list as you are allowed to select two alternate books. This challenge is going to be so much fun! Not only do you get to knock a dozen books off your TBR list, but Adam also offers prizes as well! Just remember to go to the website above and sign up!

In addition to forming my list on this post, I’m going to add a page to my site that will have all of my 2018 challenges listed there, such as Back to the Classics and Austen in August.

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My 2018 TBR Pile Challenge List:

  1. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
  2. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  3. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  4. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  5. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
  6. Carrie by Stephen King
  7. The Trial by Franz Kafka
  8. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  9. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
  10. The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
  11. The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
  12. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (didn’t get to it in 2017, determined to tackle it)

Alternate Selections:

  1. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  2. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides 

I tried to find a good mix of titles for this challenge. It’s feeling pretty balanced. I’m all kinds of excited to participate in this challenge! You should join too and spread the word. You might even win a prize! CLICK HERE to join. Also, congratulations Adam for finishing your doctorate! Here’s to many more challenges for 2018!

42. ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ by Agatha Christie

I was motivated to read an Agatha Christie mystery due to all of the hype surrounding the new big screen adaptation of her classic Murder on the Orient Express. Also, I needed to read and review a twentieth-century work for this year’s Back to the Classics challenge. I’m so pleased with my reading experience. This was such an engrossing read from start to finish that I can see why Christie is referred to as the Queen of Mystery. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is classic detective fiction at its best!

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When I was a child, I dreamed of being a private detective. I would explore our house and backyard questioning suspects (including our dog) determined to solve the case. I probably annoyed my family with all my sleuthing. It was worth it because I always caught the culprit (it was usually the dog). As an adult, I have always loved murder mysteries. I always try so hard to figure it all out before the big reveal. Sadly, my detective skills never lead me down the correct path so I guess it’s good I became a therapist instead. A good mystery novel always is an excellent study into human behavior, yet another reason I enjoy them so much.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is the perfect introduction to the stories of Agatha Christie. It contains so many delicious elements such as a small country village, a brutal murder, a cast of interesting suspects, and lots of misdirection. Christie manages to get you engrossed in the book from the opening sentence. Once I was hooked, I couldn’t put it down. The story begins with the death of local widow Mrs. Ferrars who committed suicide by overdose. We soon learn that Mrs. Ferrars harbored a deep dark secret and sent a letter to her dear friend and confidante Roger Ackroyd. Unfortunately, things don’t end so well for poor Ackroyd (hence the title of the book). The local police are baffled. As luck would have it, the world famous detective Hercule Poirot has taken up his retirement in the village. Poirot is soon called out of retirement in order to help solve the murder.

The story is narrated by Dr. Sheppard who mistakes his new neighbor Poirot for a hairdresser. As it turns out, retirement which consists of growing vegetable marrows doesn’t suit the detective who immediately takes on Sheppard as his Dr. Watson of the story (there’s even a nod to this, nice of Christie to acknowledge her predecessor). I love the character of Hercule Poirot. The Belgian detective with his insight as well as his humor really endeared him to me. He can be overly comical but quite serious when the situation calls for it. The chemistry between him and Dr. Sheppard work quite well as the two work together to solve the case.

Another aspect of the book I really enjoyed was the humor. I love British comedy, and there are some really funny interactions in this book not just with Poirot but also with Sheppard’s meddling sister Caroline. Although she serves as a minor character, she really does get some of the best scenes. The other characters stand out fairly well, each with his or her own motive for wanting to eliminate Ackroyd. Each one is hiding something, and Poirot is determined to uncover each secret (and he does).

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Actor David Suchet played Hercule Poirot for over 25 years on television.

This is a challenging novel to review without revealing too many details which would ruin the unveiling of the killer. I’m determined to go spoiler-free though so I will say very little about the shocking revelation. What I will say is that I did not see it coming at all. Agatha Christie manages to construct the novel in such a way that your ideas of who it could be get thrown off in so many other directions when the murderer is standing right there in front of you. As good detective fiction is supposed to go, there are plenty of red herrings to throw you off the scent. I can understand why Ackroyd stands out as one of the greatest mysteries ever written. Most detective stories lose their luster after learning the truth. However, I would actually read this one again now that I know who the killer is just to catch all the clues that Christie manages to place in front of us the entire way through. It’s just brilliant writing.

In fact right after finishing the book, I watched the television episode of the story with David Suchet as Poirot. Although mostly faithful to the novel, there were several changes. I can understand for reasons I won’t explain why the changes had to be made for television, but overall I would just rate is as alright. Suchet, however, is phenomenal in the role of Poirot so I would definitely watch more episodes of the series.

As I looked through my copy of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, I was surprised that while this one made the list, Murder on the Orient Express was absent. Despite this omission, I definitely want to read that one. However, I may actually do the film version first.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is an entertaining book, and a work of genius– the method of murder is also cleverly worked out – tightly plotted and well crafted. This will definitely not be my final adventure with Hercule Poirot.

“The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.”

Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts! Please comment below!

Writing Advice from a Nobel Prize Winner

November is National Novel Writing Month. Each year, aspiring writers participate in NaNoWriMo with the hopes of completing a 50,000 word masterpiece. Once you sign up, the idea is to just write each day and track your word count. You can actually set your own word count goal if you feel that 50,000 just isn’t doable. I participated one year, and my best friend is actually taking part this year so I thought I would write a little motivational article for him (and all you aspiring authors out there). In order to illustrate my points, I turn to recent Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro and his ability to pen a best-selling novel in less than a month.

Photo Credit: Francesco Guidicini

The idea of penning a novel seems like a fairly tall order. It requires lots of time, patience, and lots of revisions. While four weeks does not seem to be enough time to complete a work of the highest order, this dream is actually achievable. During my internet wanderings, I came across this excellent article on how Ishiguro’s masterpiece The Remains of the Day was actually penned in four weeks! Let’s take a moment. A novel that sold millions of copies around the world and launched Ishiguro into rock star status was actually drafted in one month!

It was interesting to read about the process Ishiguro undertook to complete the first draft of the book. Basically he committed himself to writing the entire day (allowing meal breaks) Monday through Saturday. Obviously, he had quite a lot of discipline to keep up this rigor even if it was for one month. I really liked what he said about how this schedule affected his state of mind:

In this way, so we hoped, I’d not only complete more work quantitively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one.

I love how he allowed himself to be totally immersed within his fictional world, making it a part of his normal life. The reality is most of us cannot do this as we have to take care of little nuisances like going to work, paying the bills, caring for our children. However, I agree with the importance of making that time to write. Whether it’s an hour, or even fifteen minutes a day, time has to be set aside as part of a regular routine. Also, Ishiguro turned off all distractions, no contact with the outside world, no television, no phone calls.

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This is an area where I have struggled time and again. I tell myself that I’m going to get some writing done and never get it completed. Rule one is that writing has to become routine. You have to set down some time for the art of writing. I think it’s best to start with a simple goal of writing for half an hour or say I’m going to write 500 words daily. As with any goal, baby steps are needed to make this part of daily practice.

Another area where I trip myself up is my own inner critic. When I’m actually sitting down writing, I will sit down and stare at a blank screen waiting for the perfect words to come to me or I write something down and quickly regret it. We have to silence our inner critics. They are merciless and will rip us to shreds without mercy. That’s the beauty of NaNoWriMo. You are not expected to make corrections or do any type of revisions at all. Just sit down and write! Here’s what Ishiguro said about the month-long process of composing The Remains of the Day: 

The priority was simply to get the ideas surfacing and growing. Awful sentences, hideous dialogue, scenes that went nowhere – I let them remain and ploughed on.

I remember reading a book on writing from author Natalie Goldberg who talked about the importance of just writing with no cares towards being awful. I liked her technique, which was to purchase the cheapest writing pads she could and just sit down and write whatever came into her mind. She would fill up notebook upon notebook, and some of it was salvageable.

Basically kids, in order to create good writing, you have to be ready to write tons of bad writing.

The other important lesson I gained from the Ishiguro article is on the importance of little moments from life that can add depth to your writing. Whether it’s a scene from a film or a song that truly moves you, these times can help spring inspiration into your writing. For example Ishiguro heard a song by Tom Waits that helped him decide the right time to create an emotionally powerful scene in his novel. It doesn’t even have to be music or film. Our interactions with others in our lives create memories that we can use in our writing. After all, the old saying is write what you know.

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Hopefully, I’ve shared some decent advice when it comes to the act of writing. For those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, or just writing in general, good luck and get to work!

Any writing advice you would like to share? What do you think is the most valuable advice you have ever received? Please comment below!