Of Musings and Wonderings











JoylandDevin Jones gets a summer job at Joyland, working as a ‘carny’ to sell fun. While there, his first love breaks up with him, he discovers an unsolved murder and finds out he is really very good at wearing the fur. Towards the end of summer, Devin meets Annie Ross and her dying son, who seems to have a very special gift.

The book was very different to what I expected. To be honest, I sort of thought it would be a Stephen King crime novel. It’s not. Well, not really. There is a crime and yes, it is solved, but it’s less crime novel and more just, well, a King novel. And there is nothing wrong with that. The story of the murdered girl takes a backseat to  Devin’s life, as he moves through the summer and into the autumn, as he works through his heartbreak, makes friends and meets Annie and her son.

I couldn’t put it down. King’s main character is relatable, and although he’s heartbroken and does keep mentioning it, King resists the urge to actually make Devin mope around and wallow in his own self-pity. We get the standard ‘friends are worried’ scene, but it’s not a huge deal. It’s handled in the same way a break-up would probably be handled. Yes, he locks himself in his room and listens to The Doors, is slightly jealous of the blossoming relationship between Mike and Erin and stops eating, but this is all slipped in with the narrative, told in the same way Devin talks about everything else.

The atmosphere of Joyland is created brilliantly. We get to experience it from Devin’s POV, get to see – as he does – the excited kids, the carny side of things, the operation of the rides. It feels at times like we could actually be there, smelling the hot dogs and riding on the Ferris wheel.

The story unravels slowly, as the mystery is revealed and Devin’s relationships with those around him grow. There’s a strong sense of Devin’s character throughout the story, and with every incident he becomes more and more likable. It’s a tale well worth reading, especially if you’re a fan of King’s work. Joyland draws you completely into the carny world, makes you really care for the characters and works well at making you eager to discover the mystery of the killer’s identity.

If you have or know a book you think I should check out, just let me know in the comments or drop me a line at gracebunting@hotmail.co.uk.

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patient zeroPatient Zero starts with Joe Ledger and his team moving into a warehouse to take out a terrorist cell. Inside, they kill the men, but one guy seems different from the rest as he stumbles around and goes for Joe. Joe takes him out with two gunshots to the back, and tries to move on. However, he is taken by men from the FBI and meets Mr Church, who tells him the threat is worse than Joe thought. He sets Joe a task, and puts him in a room, telling him all he have to do is restrain the prisoner. Joe thinks it will be easy, until the prisoner turns around and reveals himself to be the terrorist Joe had killed.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for to find decent, original zombie fiction. Some of it runs along the same line – zombies rise, world ends, protagonist/group of people find out how to survive. Not that all the ones that go along this line are bad or unoriginal, some authors have done a brilliant job of taking this and adding something nice and new. But Patient Zero isn’t one of these post-apocalypse tales. The world doesn’t end and in fact, for the most part, it carries on as normal.

Joe becomes part of an elite secret organisation fighting a new global threat. Terrorists have created zombies, and Joe, along with this group, unravel a plan to unleash these zombies on the world.

It really is an interesting take on the zombie novel, and we don’t just get the story from Joe’s POV. Maberry gives us glimpses into the other side, with chapters dedicated to the man financing the whole thing and the terrorists who believe they are doing Allah’s will. The book moves from the USA in the build-up to the fourth of July, to the Middle East where the virus strains are being created and improved. We see all sides and in that way, get to know things ahead of the heroes fighting to save the world.

The tension builds up throughout the book, as we follow the characters through their different paths. Maberry does a brilliant job of really drawing us in to each of the characters, of bringing us into their various worlds and making us eager to see Joe and company solve the mystery and save the world before it’s too late. And it’s never a completely certain thing that they will save the world or that they will all survive.

The only problem I found was the relationship between Joe and Grace. It felt, at times, quite rushed. Not that it has to be a slow burning romance but it didn’t feel very realistic, and the character of Grace didn’t feel very realistic, either. She just feels, at times, like she’s put in just to be a kick arse, military female love interest for Joe.

With the exception of the zombies, it’s not the type of book I would usually read. Going into it, soon as I realised it was going to be cops/FBI/secret government types and science, I got a little, well, worried. Like I said, not my usual type of book. But I was glad I kept going, and now I’m thinking maybe I should start reading thriller and crime novels – without the zombie aspects – more often.

Overall the book was solid, the characters (for the most part) interesting, and the plot kept me turning the page constantly, eager to find out what would happen next and where the various characters would end up. One I would very much recommend, especially if you want a non-apocalypse zombie novel.

Currently looking for book/film/TV recommendations. If you know something you think I should read or watch, let me know in the comments or drop me a line at gracebunting@hotmail.co.uk. Always willing to read self-published work, so if you have a book out, just let me know where I can get a copy.



{September 18, 2013}   Bates Motel [TV]

bates motelA more fitting tagline would be Mothers, they can really fuck you up.

Norman Bates and his mother Norma move to a small town six months after the death of Norman’s father. Purchasing a motel, Norma is determined that the move will be a complete fresh start for them. But things won’t be easy, especially when the former owner turns up and attacks Norma while Norman is out with his new ‘friends’.

Bates Motel takes the character of Norman Bates and turns him into someone, well, likable and relatable. It’s not an easy task, but Freddie Highmore does an excellent job of balancing a socially awkward, sweet kid with a creepy, obsessive psycho. Speaking of which, when the hell did Freddie Highmore grow up? It took me until about halfway through the first episode to actually realise who he was, and even then I had to double-check that it was the same kid from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Finding Neverland. Christ, he makes me feel old.

Cute kid turns into creepy teenager...

Cute kid turns into creepy teenager…

Of course, you couldn’t have a TV show with just two characters, fascinating though the messed up relationship between them is. On Norman’s first day of school he meets Bradley, who tries to convince Norma to let her son out to ‘study at the library’. He also meets Emma, a sweet girl with cystic fibrosis. Norma becomes friendly with Deputy Zach Shelby, while hounded by his partner Sheriff Alex Romero for the death of the previous owner. And Norman’s half-brother, Norma’s son, Dylan turns up to live with his family, despite his hatred for Norma.

There’s a lot going on in the show and throughout the ten episodes it keeps the tension up and remains highly entertaining. Watching it, you find yourself constantly questioning the characters, their motives, what they’re doing and who they’re lying to. Bradley is portrayed as this sweet, nice girl who everyone totally likes and is, like, so popular. But in truth she’s manipulative and doesn’t care who she hurts to get her way. And honestly, I’m not completely sure that’s how she was meant to come across, but that’s how it seemed to me. And actress Nicola Peltz does a brilliant job of it.

It doesn't take long to start wishing she's Norman's first victim.

It doesn’t take long to start wishing she’s Norman’s first victim.

Emma, on the other hand, is a genuinely sweet girl who likes Norman. Suffering from cystic fibrosis, she has to carry around an oxygen tank with her, which comes in handy breaking into dead men’s boats. Emma is one of the really ‘good’ characters in the show, and it’s clear she does care for Norman. Although at times her infatuation with him borders on annoying, she still remains likable and strong, telling Norman point-blank that what he had with Bradley was just a hook up, before turning back to the task at hand of trying to rescue a Chinese sex slave.

Deputy Zach Shelby seems like one of the good guys, as he rides in and saves the day for Norma and Norman. He’s handsome and kind, the poster boy for too good to be true. As viewers, we kind of know this, yet the first half of the series is spent almost praying he turns out to be separate from the darker elements of the town. Then we have Alex Romero, the sheriff. He seems to really have it out for Norma, and makes us constantly question whether he’s out for himself and his buddies, or if he actually has the best interests of the town at heart, even if the town’s main economy comes from growing and selling pot, providing most guys with a job.

Don't trust a face just because it's pretty.

Don’t trust a face just because it’s pretty…

Out of all these characters with hidden depths and motivations, there’s one character who stands out as being honest and good, even if at first we’re led to believe he’s a no good lay about. Dylan is Norman’s half-brother, bitter because his mother left his father for Norman’s dad, and probably because she always treated the two boys differently. She still does. She smothers Norman, talks about how they’re best friends, while putting Dylan down. She doesn’t even tell him when they move away. But Dylan becomes the voice of reason, spotting instantly how Norma’s influence is affecting his brother. And despite everything, he really does care for Norman. He clearly wants him to just be a teenager, to have a normal life, and tries to get him away from their odd, crazy mother. There’s nothing to hate about the guy, and there’s no hidden motivations or secrets guiding him. He just does what he thinks is right, even when it means he could get in trouble.

But there are some pretty faces you can trust, even if they're gun-carrying pot guards.

..But there are some pretty faces you can trust, even if they’re gun-carrying pot guards.

Norma and Norman, of course, take the main centre stage throughout the ten episodes. This is, after all, sort of a ‘prequel’ to Psycho. And both actors hit their parts spot on. Norma has a strange charm about her, as she leaps from loving to crazy mother. Even in her relationship with Deputy Shelby, it’s hard to tell if she’s acting or being sincere. There are subtle movements on her hands, subtle expressions, that look like they could be fake. And she’s like that with everyone. Yet every so often, we get clear views of the genuine Norma, especially when she’s frightened or confused.

And then, there’s Norman. I cannot stress how good Freddie Highmore is in the role. There’s so much sympathy for the character as he tries to work through high school, as he tries to fit in and tries to make his mother happy. Yet like with Norma, we get moments of creepiness. There are moments where we’re reminded of the Hitchcock film, especially when Norman hears his mother insulted, or feels wounded. There’s also a very specific way in which he says ‘mother’ that can really cause chills to run down your spine.

There's close, and then there's these two...

There’s close, and then there’s these two…

Overall, Bates Motel is a brilliant, tense drama, with fantastic characters and a cast that really pulls it off. Well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.

Always looking for new things to read and watch. So if you have any recommendations for books, films or TV shows, let me know in the comments below.

 



51htaQUCLhLZombies invade Britain on a boiling hot day, unprecedented in the UK. Carrie desperately makes her way through London to get to her daughter, Craig is trapped on a motorway in Scotland with his parents, and Vincent is trapped in a castle in North Wales, with a bunch of tourists and the girl of his dreams. The novel shows us these three different survivors – and the people they meet – through the first day of the zombie attacks.

I was really excited to read this book. A lot of zombie novels are set in the US, at least the ones I’ve read, Obviously there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s always nice to read a book where you have a bit of a more solid idea of the places the book is talking about. Plus, well, I’ve always thought any kind of apocalypse would play differently, depending on what country you’re in. For starters, there’s less guns in the UK. And less open spaces. And just different types of people. All of which should have made this book different and exciting and unique.

Spoiler; it’s not.

Zombie Britannica reads like a typical zombie film. Don’t get me wrong, I love zombie films, but if I’m reading a zombie novel I want something different. I don’t just want gore and horror, I want decent characters and a good story and some depth. Instead, this book focuses on the gore, with the zombies crawling over everything and devouring people. There are parts where it feels like Emson is just going for a shock factor, but it doesn’t work. As for the guns…none of the characters seem to have any problem getting hold of them, no matter where they are.

As for the characters themselves, they’re 2D and flat, and I couldn’t really feel for any of them. Let’s start with the guys. Craig is a kid who has nothing really going for him, steals cars with his mates and makes trouble for his family. And…that’s about it. We don’t really get a stronger glimpse into him, when there is a lot that could be played with here. He’s heading to the airport with his family to go on holiday, and has to go with them because he’s on tag. He acts like he hates his family but when pushed he does show that he cares for them, really. Something everyone has read/seen before. Nothing different there, really. We get a few glimpses into his parents, with a few chapters dedicated just to them, but again they’re flat and even a couple of revelations – revealing that all three main characters are linked – don’t make them anymore interesting. Vincent, trapped in a castle in North Wales, tries to get himself, the girl he fancies – Holly – and the others he’s stuck with out of the castle. But with a few exceptions, we don’t really get a strong idea of what he’s feeling. It’s like he’s just going through the motions of what he should be doing because he’s in this situation, following in the footsteps of every other male character we’ve seen in countless zombie flicks.

As for the women…let me start by saying this. It is 2013. George R. R. Martin has already proved that men can write three-dimensional, complicated, in-depth women who have their own motivations and own lives outside of their husbands, children, etc. That’s what women should be in fiction and in film. In this book, that is not the case. Each woman seems driven only by her family. Carrie is a mother, and pretty much nothing more. Same with Craig’s mum. Holly wants a knight in shining armour, and seems pretty useless when Vincent isn’t there to hold her hand or fight back the zombies. The other women he is with in the castle are shown as weak, as whores, or religious fanatics (or easily succumbing to the religious fanatic in their midst). A girl who Carrie and Sawyer (the man she finds who, surprise surprise, is the only reason she survives as long) save is a messed up kid who tries to do anything to get her ex-boyfriend back. Carrie sleeps with Sawyer and then is full of shame for doing it. It gets really annoying after a while when there’s nothing else to these characters.

Overall, the writing itself isn’t that bad. But there isn’t too much of a plot outside of what we see in every zombie related thing out there, though other zombie books/films/series tend to have more going on, too. The characters really don’t have much to them. Shame, really. Not one I would recommend, as there are much better zombie books to be reading.



{August 18, 2013}   Movie 43 [Film Review]

4403_3366New rule: avoid any film that has ‘outrageous’ or ‘hilarious’ on the poster or description. I want an hour and a half (is that all it was?) or my life back, from everyone who was involved in this film. Seriously. Don’t even watch it. It’s terrible.

And damn it, actors, you are ones I liked! Ones I respected! And it feels like that’s all just been thrown in my face.

Bit of back story; my brother and his girlfriend are down for the weekend, and Dad suggests renting a film to watch from On Demand. We’re looking through these films, and my other brother suggests Movie 43. We ask multiple times if it’s actually good, actually funny, and he reassures us it is. Watches part of it with us, then heads out. My brother, his girlfriend, Dad and me come to the agreement that the oldest brother must have been seriously high when he watched it, to find it in any way funny.

The film is about two teenage friends who try to prank one’s younger brother, by convincing him there’s a ‘secret’ movie out there that they can’t find. The younger brother, being a geek and being very full of himself, is sure he can find it. So he sets out on a quest to find this mysterious ‘Movie 43’, and comes across what the description called ‘hilarious’ short films on the internet.

Let’s start with the first one. It involves Kate Winslet getting set up on a blind date with a rich, handsome man, played by Hugh Jackman. They’re having a good time until they get to the restaurant and he removes his scarf, revealing that he has balls hanging from his neck. It’s absurd and ridiculous, done with no explanation, and even weirder, everyone else in the room seems to be ignoring them.

And the tone for the movie is set. There’s a film about the girl-from-Scary-Movie asking her boyfriend to poop on her (not shit, never shit) which is played on for the whole of this ‘short film’, a joke that feels lifted pretty much from Not Another Teen Movie. A kid whose parents home school him, making sure he gets all the awful, awkward high school experiences, but with his parents playing every teenager, including his first kiss. (Again, most of this joke feels lifted from Not Another Teen Movie) The film goes on like this, switching between the kids looking for the elusive film and discovering its real and looking through more awful not funny films.

Okay, there was one that was actually kind of okay. Chloe Moretz is on a date with the brother of Christopher Mintz-Plasse and gets her first period. Cue two clueless guys freaking out, no idea what’s going on, and freaking the poor girl out, too. It actually wasn’t too bad. But that was like ten minutes of the whole film.

The actors themselves aren’t too bad either, really, but the plots and dialogue massively let them down. The truth or dare story could have been decent, but it, like a lot of the film, was just pushed way too far. As for the ending…there was yet another ‘short film’ tagged onto the end, then another, like whoever made it just didn’t want to let it go.

This is a film that should have been scrapped the moment it was mentioned, a film where I really, really wish the actors had just gone “Oh, hell no.” Unfortunately it does exist, and all I can do is say it’s terrible, awful crap that you should never, ever watch. Under any circumstances.

At least I learnt never to trust my brother’s judgement on movies again.



et cetera