Book Review: I Hunt Killers (Jasper Dent #1) by Barry Lyga

You’re seventeen years old, and your father is the most notorious serial killer America has ever produced.

He brought you up. Taught you everything he knows. Everyone in your ordinary American town knows who you are.

So even though Dear Old Dad is safely behind bars, when the killing starts all over again, you are the first person the police come to see.

They don’t know whether it’s nature or nurture. And neither do you.

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Most of this year, I’ve been taking a class on representations of evil in popular literature. We’ve gone from Voltaire’s Candide to philosophers such as Kant, Arendt, Liebniz, and Nietzsche, and we’ve just finished looking at books surrounding spree and serial killers.

So, in my spare when I wasn’t reading about Charles Manson, watching Bowling For Columbine (yes, it’s a suggested watch on our syllabus) or re-reading my dog-eared copy of The Psychopath Test, I switched this book on my Kindle for some leisure time.

And this book is absolutely fascinating. Hot damn.

If you like crime, thrillers, and the exploration of good and evil, this book is for you. The inner workings of Jasper’s mind feel absolutely realistic, especially considering that his father was, indeed, a fictitious yet monstrous serial killer. A Ted Bundy figure who moved from state to state, doing terrible things to the women he captured, and making his own son watch. I think it goes without saying that that kind of childhood would mess up your psyche. Really, really badly.

The book brings up the question of nature vs. nurture several times. Jasper’s grandmother knew she’d given birth to a ‘bad egg’, and she always swore that Jasper would grow up to be just like his father. Except… Jasper was taken away from his mother at a young age and forced into watching and doing terrible things. This may be a personal bias, since I’m generally in the ‘nurture’ camp on this debate. However, Jasper is extremely well realised and believable as a young man struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and despairing over whether or not he really is a sociopath.

So, let’s get on to the plot proper rather than go on gushing about Jasper. Which, believe me, I could.

Following his father’s incarceration, Jasper has been living in the small town of Lobo’s Nod, trying to live as normally as possible. He’s got an awesome girlfriend named Connie, and a cheerful best friend named Howie, who suffers from haemophilia. They’re his anchors to the real world, and they’re always willing to comfort him when he’s having horrible flashbacks to his father’s abuse, or disagreeing with his mentally ill grandmother, or even trying to fend off this small town’s equivalent of the paparazzi.

But, unfortunately, there’s a murderer who’s just arrived in town. A murderer calling himself ‘The Impressionist’, obsessed with the ‘work’ of Billy Dent. He confounds the police, but the puzzle pieces all fit into place for Jasper. It’s just a shame that Billy Dent 2.0 is always two or three steps ahead of him, and it takes a little while to actually figure out that The Impressionist is copying America’s most prolific serial killer, rather than just being a random increase in the number of murders in this town.

Admittedly, the book starts out incredibly strong and then peters out going into the third act. It’s a shame, but not enough for me to consider knocking a full star off its rating. Going to actually visit Billy Dent in prison (not really spoilers, I guess) should have had a lot more gravity to it, but it just seems tacked on as window-dressing, and thus, the ending is rather rushed. (Also, I called the identity of the murderer quite early on, but… I suppose that’s just something I’ve picked up from reading and analysing crime fiction over the past few years.)

Speaking of Billy Dent, though, my God. He’s terrifying. He’s this hideous, ghostly presence in Jasper’s mind, and it chills you to the bone when poor Jazz is remembering parts of his childhood. No wonder his memory is ‘a tossed salad’. I think we’d all be trying our best to forget, especially if the highlight of your ninth birthday was being taken down to the basement and shown how to dissolve human body parts in quicklime.

Billy Dent’s fathering skills – such as they were – resembled brainwashing techniques more than parenting. As a result, Jazz mostly remembered bits and pieces, like now — a memory of blood running into a sink drain; the pungent smell of it thick in his nose; a sharp stained knife resting in the sink. Jazz had a terror of knives left in sinks. He couldn’t stand seeing them there. At home, every time he used a knife, he had to clean it and stow it in a drawer or knife block immediately; just the sight of a knife in a sink made him shiver and quake.

‘Nice job, son…. Nice, good cut. Clean…’
(Loc. 565)

On bad days, Jazz wondered if he had figuratively taken his father’s place, just as he’d literally taken Billy’s place behind the wheel of the Jeep. Was that his destiny? Billy Dent made no secret of his plans for Jazz: ‘You’ll be the greatest ever, Jasper. They’ll never catch you. You’ll be the new boogeyman parents use to scare their kids into behaving. You’ll make everyone forget Speck and Dahmer and even Jack the goddamn Ripper. My boy. My boy.’
(Loc. 1147)

Okay, so the writing is a teensy bit clunky and clumsy at times, but it’s nothing severe. I found myself hooked very easily, devouring this book in small chunks and then regretting having to set it aside to do uni work.

Honestly, it’s a pretty damn good book, setting aside my minor issues with the ending and some of the writing at times. The psychology of our main protagonist is perfectly realised, and it’s thoroughly gripping and thrilling.

Verdict: 4.5 stars.

Book Review: The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy – A Handbook For Girl Geeks by Sam Maggs

Fanfic, cosplay, cons, books, memes, podcasts, vlogs, OTPs and RPGs and MMOs and more — it’s never been a better time to be a girl geek. The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is the ultimate handbook for ladies living the nerdy life, a fun and feminist take on the often male-dominated world of geekdom.

With delightful illustrations and an unabashed love for all the in(ternet)s and outs of geek culture, this book is packed with tips, play-throughs, and cheat codes for everything from starting an online fan community to planning a convention visit to supporting fellow female geeks in the wild.

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(A digital ARC of this book was kindly provided by the publishers via NetGalley.)

(Also posted to the wonderful Bibliodaze!)

I remember growing up as a geek. It was a slightly painful experience, growing up near the middle of nowhere and having absolutely nobody in my local area who was interested in the same things as I was. I could talk at length about Spider-Man, Kingdom Hearts, various obscure foreign movies, books, and more RPGs than you could shake a stick at, but absolutely nobody was interested in my hobbies.

Not because they didn’t care, but, in hindsight, you have to remember that it was secondary school, and you were a huge outcast if you didn’t go with the flow and watch the same sort of things the popular crowd were enjoying. Same way it is in most high schools, really. I don’t particularly begrudge my former classmates for “not getting” why I still enjoyed cartoons and why a video game brought me to tears during one lunch break. (Yep, it was indeed Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. I’d imported it and completed it before the game was even translated into English, let alone localised for Europe. Get on my level, nerds.)

I left secondary school in 2008, and of course, throughout my sixth form and university career, I’ve remained in fandom. I’ve watched fans migrate from fanfiction.net to AO3, from LiveJournal to Tumblr and Dreamwidth, learned all the lingo, been to conventions, and you know what? Fandom is a wonderful little world to get into, and it’s gotten me to engage and analyse pop culture in multiple ways. 12 year old me, tentatively asking her parents permission to join a Sailor Moon forum, probably couldn’t have imagined one day squeeing over a radio drama like Welcome to Night Vale or a webcomic like Homestuck, furiously sending theories back and forth to friends, even the silly little character headcanons that popped into my head.

Why am I gushing on about my early experience in fandom? Because this book made me. It put a huge smile on my face, and it also made me realise — fandom’s become such a behemoth these days, that sometimes people just don’t know where to start. Back in 2003, I had crappy dial-up Internet and had to order in my Spider-Man and Batman comics and trades at a slight mark-up whenever I could visit the next town over. Of course, nowadays there’s multiple blog posts on books you might like if you liked the Harry Potter series, and you can easily search for “best Avengers comic to start with”, but even with this wealth of information available at the click of a button, it can still seem rather bewildering to get into fandom for the first time ever.

Maggs (who is also an associate editor for the Mary Sue) uses a very easy, conversational tone, backed up by lovely illustrations and interviews with famous girl geeks such as Erin Morgenstern, Jamie Broadnax, Kate Beaton, Beth Revis, Kate Leth and Victoria Schwab, and even a chapter which is basically a list of the most badass, feminist characters in all of fandom. (Shout out for including Lt. Riza Hawkeye, Captain Janeway, Red Sonja, Kamala Khan and Carol Danvers.) And a chapter on the debunking of various myths about feminism, and why it’s important for anybody coming into fandom to be aware and critical of the issues that still plague large swathes of the industries that make our favourite books or comics or games.

The book also has a guide on how to rock your first convention and have fun in cosplay. There’s a huge list of conventions and events (mainly in North America, though), and resources for whatever you’re into over a wide variety of subjects, from mathematics and science to music to books to video games. There’s also a fairly comprehensive list of the best websites to bookmark as a geeky lady, and even the names that adherents of certain fandoms give themselves as a group. (Although, it may just be me, but I have never heard of a Puella Magi Madoka Magica fan being called a ‘Madokie.’)

Ever since I read Katherine Larsen and Lynn S. Zubernis’ essay collection on the Supernatural fandom last year, I’ve found myself a little apprehensive reading fannish books like this. Simply put, there was a cringe factor in that book. Sometimes one can go a little bit too far in the name of fandom, you know? But, thankfully, this book sets the balance just right.

One thing I also really liked about this book? Maggs brings up how to deal with trolls and other negativity within the realms of your favourite things.

It’s important that fangirls not suffer the wrath of the troll in silence, because silence is tacit approval. Exposing troll speech to the world reminds the public that these things are happening, rad geeky ladies are being harassed, and that’s not okay.
(Loc. 867)

Girl power, sisters. Go fight that troll in the dungeon. (By the way, this book gave me a new favourite term for virulent atheist neckbeards: the Olog-Hai.)

Of course, if you’ve been to multiple conventions and are a firmly established fan-writer in your circles, this book may not be the best for you. That being said, however, it’s not just a guide that completely holds the hands of neophytes and ignores the long-time fans. You can still glean a heck of a lot of enjoyment out of this book, even if you feel you’ve been there, done that, and got the (geeky) T-shirt.

Putting myself into the head of a newbie to fandom for a second, I would love this book. It identifies major fan groups, tells you precisely which comics and TV series to get into, and brings up how you can engage more in the online worlds of your favourite shows. Live-Tweeting, making gifs, writing stories, etc.

Either way, it’s a wonderfully fun read. It’s a great guide for complete n00bz (as we supposedly used to say in 2004), and also enlightening and entertaining to older fans.

(Also, newbies to fandom — don’t forget, you’re here forever.)

4.5 stars.

February Round-Up

Ah, February. The slump month. You’re so invigorated and refreshed in January, hoping to keep up your New Year’s resolutions, and then February comes along like a brick wall. You fall into a routine, and then everything gets thrown off kilter when the second month of the year rolls around.

At least, that’s how it’s feeling for me right now. I’ve been stuck in a bit of a slump, when my year started off so promising! I’ve been unable to derive much pleasure out of my hobbies, and I’ve just been forcing my nose against the grindstone for a while. I’ve been ill too, and that sucked. (By the way: The Theory of Everything is a great movie. It’s just a shame I was suffering from a virus that made me nearly faint in the cinema foyer when I went out there.  :( )

Though you know what has been great stress relief this month? Playing The Lego Movie: The Video Game. I got it for cheap off Steam during the last sale, and it’s just so much fun to go around bashing the hell out of LEGO structures and enemy robots and what have you.

I’m stuck at a bit of an impasse with my dissertation, too. Ughhhh. I’m trying, I really am, but I’m just going to have to prepare myself for a lot of hard work next month, because I really am not pleased with what I’ve forged so far. On top of that, I feel like my argument isn’t working quite how I want it to go, and… yeah, I’m seeing my supervisor next week. #thirdyearunianxieties #goawayplease

Oh yeah, also, this month, I saw Jupiter Ascending with a friend. And I was compelled to share my thoughts on the film just two hours afterwards. It was bad, on a storytelling level and… okay, I really did try to turn off my brain and enjoy the really awful fanficcy nature of the writing, but it just annoyed me, really.

And I think I’m going to cut it off there. Shortest month of the year = shortest monthly recap of the year. Huzzah.

Film Review: Jupiter Ascending (2014, dir. Lana & Andy Wachowski)

Oh my word…

I’m still kind of in shock as to how awful this film was. I mean, I’d read the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and Letterboxd and on other film blogs I trust, but holy moley, I wasn’t expecting THIS.

I only got back from Jupiter Ascending an hour ago, and it was the subject of a lot of ranting as my friend and I made our way towards the station.

Seriously, I usually LIKE films by the Wachowskis! I like The Matrix, I like Speed Racer, and I’ve heard really good things about Cloud Atlas, so what the hell went wrong here?

Well, I guess that’s what we’re here to find out. I want to praise the movie for taking some terribly sci-fi cliches and at least putting an interesting spin on them, but the bad parts of Jupiter Ascending far, far outweigh the good.

From Tumblr’s reaction to this film, I was expecting it to be absolutely bonkers, in a way that was amusing to riff on. I mean, I wasn’t expecting it to be good, but I at least expected to glean some fun out of it, you know?

Spoilers under the cut!

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“Leave Your Stupid Comments in Your Pocket!” – A Recounting of My First Screening of ‘The Room’ (2003, dir. Tommy Wiseau) at the Bristol Bad Film Club

Oh, the sweet, sweet days before I knew what The Room was… I have two people to blame for my acquaintance with this movie. Obscurus Lupa, and The Nostalgia Critic. Actually, I’m not sure whether to blame them or to thank them, because The Room is as hilarious as it is fundamentally terrible. Nothing about it works, really, and the acting is wooden beyond belief.

Let me go off on a personal tangent really quickly — I once had a drama teacher at school who was rather… well, not liked by the entire class. We all saw drama as this pointless exercise, a class lasting only half an hour that didn’t go into detail about Shakespeare or Greek tragedy or anything interesting about the performing arts… Nope. We had to do stupid things like act out ‘a couple arguing in a hotel, but you have to use your entire group!’ and ‘one character is walking alone in the forest.’ Most of us would half-heartedly come up with a concept, perform it with the least amount of effort imaginable. It didn’t matter, since pretty much everybody would pass anyway. (The same way a PE teacher will grade the un-athletic kids for “effort,” even though there shouldn’t even be a need to grade PE, but that’s a whole other argument.)

That’s the level of acting in The Room. That’s the level of production. Undoubtedly, some effort went in, but after reading both Ryan Finnigan’s The Definitive Guide to the Room and Greg Sestero/Tom Bissell’s The Disaster Artist, everyone on the crew seemed to have been exasperated to the point of complete apathy.

Tommy Wiseau, who is the director and lead actor, showed up four hours late to the first day of shooting the film that would be his magnum opus. That’s just one anecdote of many you’ll find in both books.

So, the Bristol Bad Film Club, as its title suggests, hosts screenings of awful, awful movies. Troll 2Supergirl, and an upcoming screening of Street Fighter: The Movie. All in the wonderful English city of Brizzle! (Or, as the locals (and other Somerset folk) actually pronounce it, Bristol.) It’s known as ‘The Other BBFC’ on Twitter, too. Go ahead, follow them. :)

The screening was held at the Redgrave Theatre. My friends and I were greeted in by a fellow in a tuxedo, surprisingly one of the few people who did dress up. (I know the feel, bro. Me and Emily went to a Pirates of the Caribbean screening in Taunton where we’d spent a week on semi-decent piratical cosplay, only to be the only two people (out of ten) in costume. And the cheeky sods who organised it withdrew the costume competition prizes.)

There was a talk before the film began, an introduction to The Room for the bewildered people who’d been dragged in by their friends with the promise of an ‘amazingly bad’ movie they’d have to see to believe. Funnily enough, there was roughly an equal proportion of people who had seen the movie versus those who hadn’t seen it. I was wondering if I could get my copy of The Definitive Guide signed, but unfortunately we didn’t have much time to stay for the Q&A with Ryan Finnigan afterwards.

We also had a video message before the film began, from Robyn Paris (who plays Michelle) and there was another video with the terrifying two-belted spectre of Tommy Wiseau standing silently like a sentinel whilst Greg Sestero and the heads of the BBFC (I hope, sorry if my poor memory means I’ve gotten any names wrong or missed anyone out!) welcoming us to the second screening of The Room in Bristol.

Then the Wiseau Films logo shows up on screen, and we know we’re in for a treat.

The film itself… well… Everything that needs to be said on that film has been said definitively. Multiple times. Online video critics and aficionados of bad cinema cut their teeth on screenings of this movie. But, The Room is wonderfully, wonderfully bad and immensely quotable. In fact, you discover something brand new every single time you watch it. Emily and I had never noticed the bizarre creature living inside of Lisa’s neck muscles. (Speaking of, why do we, as fans of bad cinema, have a habit of picking up on strange necks, or the lack thereof? See also: The Criminologist from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.) Emily’s poor boyfriend was just left in a state of shock throughout, I think.

I read Juliette Danielle’s essay in The Definitive Guide to The Room about how much misogynist abuse she’s heard hurled at her, just for starring in this movie. Thankfully, this wasn’t present the way I was expecting — i.e., people screaming that she was a bitch or ugly or whatever. Anyway, Juliette Danielle can’t attend screenings because of this, as well as the awful, awful embarrassment of watching her 22 year old self ‘act’ in a film she thought was going to be disposed of and forgotten by the masses.

Not seized upon as a cult classic that had patrons gleefully gathering up plastic spoons and tossing them at the screen at any shot that has a cheap portrait of a piece of cutlery hung up on the wall. (I’m a Rocky Horror fan, guys. Our rice, confetti, toilet rolls and rubber gloves are, dare I say, a touch more inspired. :P )

Also, thank you, audience, for keeping loud, obnoxious riffing to a minimum and always managing to quiet down your laughter just before the next great scene. I mean both of these statements sincerely. I’ll have to come to more of these screenings. :)

All in all, a great time was had by myself and my associates. A wonderful way to spend Friday the 13th. Getting up close and personal with a heartfelt story by Tommy Wiseau where he exposes his bubble butt not once, but twice.

A much better pick than Fifty Shades of Grey, it has to be said.

Why I Gave Up on Tokyo Ghoul

Last July, I read the first volume of Tokyo Ghoul. A lot of my friends on Tumblr were discussing the anime as it was airing, but I saw a lot of complaints about just how censored it was and how this often ruined the viewing experience. So, I figured I’d wait until the DVD-exclusive uncensored episodes came out.

Over six months have passed, and I still haven’t watched the anime. (My attention span’s been awful for anime as of late, so… blame that, I guess.)

I downloaded a few volumes of the manga and got stuck into that instead. (Apologies, any English-language licensors reading this — you want me to waste my money importing Glénat’s French editions? Whatever.)

Tokyo Ghoul is by no means a bad manga. In fact, it’s enjoyable as hell and very, very addictive. I’d be sitting up late at night on my iPad, repeating “one more chapter” to myself, and I managed to sustain this momentum up until about chapter 70.

So, where did it all go wrong? I mean, I’m open to coming back to this manga if it picks up, or if I just gave up during a particular slump, but… man, guys. I’ve read the plotless wonder that is Black Butler for over 100 chapters and yet I still derived more enjoyability out of it. Tokyo Ghoul, after some point, just becomes dull and too focused on bouts between ghouls, never once stopping to breathe and consider that perhaps the reader might like some world-building, or an indication of something much deeper going on. Seriously, I think around volume five, the manga finally tells us what the hell the Ghouls’ Kagune are made out of, and what ones have particular advantages in battle… after five volumes. Seriously, you guys.

I also didn’t particularly appreciate how the manga seems to throw around plot points like a hot potato. Like, it’ll focus on one plot point for half a picosecond, then drop it. The Ghoul born with one eye, the Investigation bureau…

Also, it’s STILL never been revealed why the human populace aren’t pissing themselves in fear and refusing to go out after hearing of all these ghoul attacks! I brought this up in my review of the manga, but with a premise like this, there really ought to be at least some focus on humanity’s reaction, right? I don’t know, if I was brought up in a world where cannibalistic monsters who prey on humans existed, and who often left their victims’ remains unidentifiable, I’d be a lot more insistent on travelling in groups and not trusting strangers as far as I could throw them. You know?

I’m sure I’m just being a little too harsh, but I keep finding myself irritated whenever I try and pick back up from where I left off. I just want more plot! And hell, Black Butler managed to be entertaining whilst deciding that the plot of Ciel’s revenge was something better swept under the carpet and then teasingly brought up once in a blue moon when all the planets align.

I don’t know, man. I really don’t know.

Anyone in the audience know if it gets any better or not? :(

Book Review: Outcast by Adrienne Kress

After six years of “angels” coming out of the sky and taking people from her town, 16-year-old Riley Carver has had it living with the constant fear. When one decides to terrorize her in her own backyard, it’s the final straw. She takes her mother’s shotgun and shoots. So it’s dead. Or… not? In place of the creature she shot, is a guy. A really hot guy. A really hot, alive and breathing guy. Oh, and he’s totally naked.

Not sure what to do, she drags his unconscious body to the tool shed and ties him up. After all, he’s an angel and they have tricks. She’s all set to interrogate him about why the angels come to her town, and how to get back her best friend Chris, who was taken the year before. But it turns out that he is just as confused about everything as she is. He thinks it’s 1956…

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Sigh.

I thought I’d adore this book. I know I have a tendency to overhype myself and then grouse about how a book didn’t live up to my expectations, but seriously. I’d heard such good things about this book! And then it just fell completely flat.

Some of us in the book blogging world recall the book Angelfall by Susan Ee. During 2012,  it was the big self-publishing success on GoodReads. Everyone was urging their friends to read it, and 5 star reviews abounded. So, I hopped on the bandwagon and found myself thoroughly enjoying it too! I mean, after you’ve read so much pap about angels in YA, having them figured as vengeful warriors of the apocalypse was rather refreshing.

As you may also know, I spent several months last year critiquing Halo by Alexandra Adornetto, and this seemed to be the antidote to all the failings of that book. A high school romance set in the Southern US, between an angel and a human, and using a slight 1950s aesthetic? But it was actually good? Sold!

So, Riley lives in an isolated, swampy town where for quite a while now, one person is ‘taken away’ by a celestial figure during a summer celebration. Nope, this isn’t When They Cry – Higurashi. But still, people have just completely vanished, ‘Taken’ by mysterious, angelic figures. These angels are more like the Erikas from Welcome to Night Vale than the winged beings you see in churches, and the people in the town are terrified. An exploitative preacher named Pastor Warren has even set up a cult based around the angels in the town, using his influence within the community to shun any non-believers.

I was totally down for this… and then the plot decided to flounder around in circles. There’s no particular goal any character is working towards, and if there is, well, they can always put it on the back-burner for now and come back to it later. It just seems dull and lifeless, when it could have been so vibrant and exciting.

There also seemed to be too much going on in this one novel. There’s a twist right at the end that comes completely out of the blue. I remember looking at how many pages I had left and wondering just how all these loose ends were going to be tied up… and they were, to some degree, but sadly it wasn’t a particularly cohesive way of going about the big reveal.

Riley herself is an engaging character, witty without ever becoming irritating, and willing to defend herself even in moments of terror. Come on, she sees a terrifying celestial being, and her first thought is to blast it out of the sky with a shotgun.

And the ‘hot guy’ from the blurb, Gabe? He’s relatively well thought out too. Admittedly, he comes across as a little too stereotypically 1950s, and he seems to be a little too comfortable being in the modern era at times.

We’re drawn into Riley’s friendship with a girl named Lacy (which includes a nearly eye-rolling amount of “woe is me I’m not as pretty as the head cheerleader” from our main character). Thankfully, Lacy is given depth later in the book, and the two girls become firm friends, so… yay for that!

Ultimately, the book’s biggest flaw was the way the plot just seemed to wander around, going absolutely nowhere. I was really looking forward to this as a soothing balm for the rubbish angel YA I’ve subjected myself to in the past, but honestly, I wish there was just more to it.

Verdict: 3 stars.