Of Musings and Wonderings











smoke and mirrorsI have to admit, I do love a good collection. Whether it’s by the same author or stories from a variety, there’s something pleasurable in moving from one story to the next, in a vastly different way than diving into a good novel.

In Smoke and Mirrors, Gaiman presents to us a number of different stories and poems, with a couple of cross-overs, some nods to Lovecraft, and some very, very strange scenes and stories that leave the reader scratching their head. Gaiman’s fantastic style and voice come through in all the pieces, but they all remain different and strong in their own right.

Delights, wonders and horrors – seriously. Some really creepy horrors that make me wonder what must be going through Gaiman’s head. But all of the stories are enjoyable, and the majority are memorable; what happens when humans can no longer test on animals, what happens when a radical cancer treatment causes people’s sex to change, the melding of memories during sex, a disappearing grandmother and a mysterious fox. Among these there are also the stories of a small town plagued with cultists, a writer trying to work on a screenplay and a twist on the traditional troll under the bridge tale.

Each tale captures the reader in a different way, and Gaiman does a brilliant job of introducing characters and settings quickly, allowing the meat of the story to really flourish. There are no punches pulled here and nothing really held back. It is, essentially, Gaiman doing what he does best. The whole collection feels like fairy tales for adults, even with a couple of warnings sprinkled throughout. He draws you right in, exploring different worlds and ideas and making you really believe in the magic, even if it only is for a few moments.

Smoke and Mirrors is brilliant, a wonderful collection, each story tied together in some small way yet still standing strongly out from one another. Well worth a read for any fans of fantasy, magic and, of course, of Gaiman himself.



harlequinAnita Blake and her men are threatened by a very strong, powerful force, a group that are so scary their name cannot be spoken. They act as police in the vampire world, sent by the council to punish vampires who don’t follow the rules. When they are contacted by The Harlequin, Anita and her group are put under threat. They can manipulate the emotions of humans, vampires and were-animals alike, almost causing Jean-Claude and Richard to kill each other. Anita must save them using the power of, what else, sex.

Of course it’s sex. It’s always sex. At this point in the series, it always comes down to sex. To Anita’s power, to the ardeur, inherited from Jean-Claude. Admittedly, it feels like, by The Harlequin, there’s a sort of decent balance between sex and plot, and rather than it just being jammed in there, it’s actually used to advance things and makes sense with what’s going on. Although, to be honest, I miss the earlier books, where Anita was given some sort of case which she had to help solve, while also dealing with her personal life. Now, it’s more about the vampire/shape-shifter side than the police side, and I sort of miss those guys.

When I first started reading the series, I loved Anita as a character. She was strong and fiercely independent. She had her own opinions, but they always seemed suited to her and her situation, felt like it made her a better character. I’m not saying that her romantic situation has made her less independent, by the way, but as the series has gone on, it feels more and more like a lot of what was so likeable about her is going by the wayside.

Plus, she’s so damn hypocritical. Her best friend Ronnie has a few problems during the course of the last few books, mainly to do with her relationship, the rate it’s moving at, her fear of commitment. And Anita basically tears her up. Rather than being there for her, when she expects Ronnie to be completely there for Anita, Anita just seems to dismiss everything and get angry because Ronnie’s problems aren’t as big as her own. She jumps on Ronnie for not wanting commitment from one man, when Anita, to be fair, has a number of them living at her house and is sleeping with a lot more.

Which brings me to another point about Anita’s hypocrisy. In The Harlequin, in order to get enough power to save herself, Jean-Claude and Richard, Anita must feed off the shapeshifters. If she feeds off the head of each shapeshifter group, she can feed off them all. They come to her, and she sleeps with them. Now, there have been issues with the werelions. Another werelion was brought by a vampire master, and Anita found herself attracted to him, putting it down to having yet another beast inside her, seeking a mate. Haven is sent away, because the local werelion pack is weak and if he were to take them over, it’s likely he’d kill many of them.

Anita does not allow the men in her life to have other partners. Not the ones she is closest to, anyway. Despite the fact that she – obviously – has multiple partners. Right. Okay. But the head of the werelion pack, Joseph, refuses to come to her, as he is faithful to his wife. And yes, there are other issues surrounding this and the general weakness of the pack. But instead of trying to get them to fix that or just telling Joseph to get out, it’s hinted that Haven, after permission from Anita, kills the leader, his brother and his wife.

Yes, something needed to be done about the lions. But killing them? Seriously? Little bit harsh! And just because he wouldn’t sleep with Anita and betray his wife? Ugh!

So, The Harlequin isn’t the best book of the series, but it’s not the worst. Yes, Anita’s beginning to grate on me a little, but it feels like the balance between plot and other things is, at least, getting a bit better. The characters are pretty much the same as always, and the last scene between Anita and the Harlequin does feel like it was squeezed in there just to have some sort of conclusion to it. Honestly? With this one, I’m left feeling pretty much the same as I always do after I finish one of these books. I want to know what happens next, I want to see how it all turns out, yet there are parts that just really annoy me and make me wonder if I really should carry on with it. Well, we’ll see. Worth reading if you’ve stuck it out with the series so far. Actually, yeah, if anyone else is reading this, what are your thoughts on them? Think the earlier ones are better or think they’re improving as the series goes on?



{February 20, 2014}   Saga, Volume One [Graphic Novels]

saga“Am I shitting? It feels like I’m shitting.”

Authors spend ages thinking over the perfect opening lines, the perfect way to grab a reader and plunge them into a story. Saga does that brilliantly, with the first piece of dialogue (above) and the narration on the first page of the novel (This is how an idea becomes real). And, as we all know, the first thing a reader reads (and sees, in the case of graphic novels) is crucial.

Saga tells the story of Marko and Alana, soldiers from opposite sides, fighting in a never-ending war. Their attempts to escape the war backfire when they are tracked down, and they must run to save themselves, their love, and the life of their new-born child, the narrator of the story.

saga2As with Hit-Girl, the art in Saga is beautiful. Unlike Hit-Girl, the art here needs to do a lot more. Rather than just tell the story of the characters, the art also has to create whole new worlds, has to make us fully believe in the strange terrains and landscapes these characters travel across. And the appearance of the characters themselves has to say a lot, with the two main characters having more than just different home planets and lives separating them. They are also separated by their very appearance, Marko with his horns and Alana with her wings. But these aren’t the only two species inhabiting the worlds of the graphic novel. We also see human-like characters with TVs for heads, monkey-like men, and drifting lost souls. It’s clear that a hell of a lot of work has gone into the world building of this, and it pays off nicely.

As for the main characters, well, Marko and Alana are very human. They’re relatable, they bounce off each other and at times, have you wondering why the hell they’re together. There are moments when it’s clear to see the love they have for each other, and moments when they butt heads so spectacularly that it makes you question how they ended up together. But…it makes the relationship itself feel more real. After all, don’t we all know a couple that seem to click and compliment each other brilliantly one day, and the next just seem to act like children about something? But they’re the kind of couple that doesn’t take it too far, and are there to support the other one when it’s needed.

Marko and Alana are a lot like that, and little things about their relationship become more clear as we find out how, exactly, they met.

saga-no-killingAs well as the two main characters, there’s a whole host of supporting characters that are, basically, very strong. We get almost behind the scenes glimpses at those who had hired to track down the two runaways, and although at first the bounty hunters come across as right dick heads, but like Alana and Marko we’re treated to further glimpses into their pasts, and see more human-like, decent sides to them. There are characters that make you want to slap them, and there are characters that make you want to slap them then hug them then wish everything would just turn out all right for everyone, damn it.

Saga, the story of a love forged during a never-ending war, is a brilliant read. It really tugs you into the world, makes you feel for the characters involved – no matter what side they’re on – and leaves you, as all good novels, graphic novels, etc, should, wanting a hell of a lot more. Definitely worth checking out.



{February 16, 2014}   Hit Girl [Graphic Novel]

hit girlI haven’t seen Kick Ass 2 yet, though I desperately want to. But I have read both the Kick Ass graphic novels, and I have to admit, I was over the moon when I unwrapped my present from my brother at Christmas and found Hit-Girl. I read it the same day, but its just taken me this long to realise I didn’t actually write a post for it. (Silly me)

Hit-Girl acts as a bridge between Kick Ass and Kick Ass 2. It’s the story of Mindy, trying to cope with fitting in at middle school, trying to be normal while also sneaking out and training Kick Ass to be her sidekick in the night. While doing all this, Mindy also has to avoid the local police, including her step-father.

This isn’t just a story full of heroes beating people up and working for the greater good. Sure, there are those moments – of course there are – but there’s a lot more to Hit-Girl, and at the heart of it, there’s a lot more emotion, too, something I felt more strongly with Kick Ass 2 than the first one. The storytelling in these seems to be getting better and better, packing more of an emotional punch along with all the fun stuff.

imagesCA7P311WYes, there are some downright gruesome moments in the book. But we also get to see the real struggles of these characters, especially Mindy. It’s easy to forget, seeing her take down gangsters and mob bosses, and even going on a killing spree on death row, that she is, essentially, a kid in middle school. More importantly, a girl in middle school, who has to try to, for the first time, navigate the corridors of school politics, keep her grades up, and keep her parents happy.

And in Hit-Girl, it becomes apparent that it’s not the bad guys who are the only problem Mindy has to face. There are also the stuck up bitches who seem intent to put her down and single her out from her first moment through the door. And although she knows how awesome she is outside of school, she still wants to fit in. Mindy, essentially, wants what any girl her age her wants. Along with the guns and knives, she wants acceptance and normality, even if she only wants them as a front to present to her parents.

Kick-Ass does offer his advice on how she can fit in, but these all backfire, until Mindy uses her own skills to become OMG BFFS with the queen bee. And, honestly? As brutal as it is, it’s brilliant to see her gain the upper hand. After all, throughout the novel, she’s the one that we, as readers, root for, in all aspects.

There are parts of it that also show Red Mist, and we see him go from the spoilt brat in Kick-Ass to the villain we see in Kick-Ass 2, as well as getting glimpses of just how much of a dick he is, how naïve he can be at times, and the way his mind is clouded, completely, with getting revenge for his father’s death. Although he is a little whiny bitch, it’s good to really see him evolve, and see his own journey between the two, while Mindy and Kick-Ass make theirs.

Hit-girl1

I don’t read a hell of a lot of graphic novels and comics – it’s unfortunately something I can’t really afford – but I do admire the work, the storytelling and the art that goes into them. Hit-Girl is no exception to that. There are images that will have you staring at the page for ages, just trying to capture everything in the panel, and there are moments where, like in any good novel, you just have to sit back and marvel at what happened.

Hit-Girl now sits on my shelf beside Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2, and it feels like it really does belong there. A brilliant graphic novel, enjoyable, easy to read, and like I said before, packs a punch in every way.

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imagesCAWJ4247 Like most of the Stephen King books I’ve been reading recently, I haven’t seen the film for this one. I had absolutely no idea what the storyline would be. I knew it involved pets, and I had some sort of idea that it would involve pet resurrection, but, as anyone who has read this would know, there is a hell of a lot more to this book. The Creed family move to a new home, and everything seems perfect. Physician father, starting work at a local college campus, beautiful wife and adorable children, along with the family’s pet cat. Their neighbour takes them for a walk on the land behind their house, taking them to the local Pet Sematary, where children have buried their pets for years. The family think no more on it, and Louis Creed begins work. However, on his first day, a young college student dies, a bad omen for what is about to come.

Louis Creed’s job involves helping people, saving people. And right from the start, he is presented with events that make it impossible for him to do anything, impossible for him to do his job and fulfil his role. As this builds up, it becomes easy to see why Louis makes the choices he makes, why he goes to such extremes to try to keep his family happy and together.

Although King is known as the master of horror, one of the things that keeps me coming back to his work, time and time again, are the emotions he pumps into his characters. He has a knack of really drawing you inside the head of whoever he is writing about, of laying out their thoughts and feelings and ramping up, not just the tension, but the emotions throughout the novel. Pet Sematary is a brilliant example of that.

After reading the introduction, by King himself, I did have a suspicion of what was going to happen to the little boy in the novel. But even that didn’t detract from the suspense built up before that scene. And the way King handles it, the way he draws you right into the emotions of the family and especially of Louis Creed, and the impact that one, single chapter has, where he manages to convince the reader that everything is actually okay…

I mostly read in work and on my way to and from work. And I had to put the book down, just for a few moments, just to stop myself from breaking down and blubbering in public.

Pet Sematary is a brilliantly written novel, dealing with death and grief and the extremes humans will go to when pushed. It’s a book that lingers in your mind afterwards, and really makes you wonder if you would do the same as Louis, if confronted with an untimely death of a pet or loved one, even knowing the risks involved.

It’s basically King doing what he does best; showing humans, going through human lives, but revealing the deepest, darkest parts of ourselves, those parts we don’t want to face, the parts we try to keep hidden. If it’s not a book you’ve read yet, I’d strongly recommend it.



et cetera