Also, here are my "books of 2013" (aka what I read, good and bad). There's not many of them as joined GoodReads quite late in the year~
The Authority vol.1 by Warren Ellis (4 of 5 stars)
Genre: Superheroes, Science Fiction
An enjoyable read, though since I haven't read more than summaries of Stormwatch, I felt I was missing a bit of history to these characters. Also, the enemies, at least in this part of The Authority's story, are very "pure evil". Good excuse for your heroes to be able to kill without second thought (very violently I might add), but it makes the plot a little repetitive; evil person/monster shows up, The Authority kicks ass, rinse, repeat. Liked the characters though.
Books of Blood Vols. 1-3 by Clive Barker (3 of 5 stars)
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
I think I went into this book with the wrong mind-set. I wanted to read a few short horror stories and instead I ended up with dark fantasy; plenty of gore and squick (so much squick), but no chills down your spine. The only tale that felt like horror to me was "The Midnight Meat Train". The rest of the time I was more often than not rooting for the "monsters" or at least pitying them.
But that's not what brought the books rating down for me. No, that were the characters' illogical actions and the lack of mystery. In a lot of cases I guess the characters were supposed to have their wills controlled by some other entity, but if that's the case it was overused and also poorly indicated, only once made clear and then overly so. It left the book full of people who over- or under-reacted to events. Most of them were also somewhat unlikable as well as unrelatable, because of this trait. The lack of mystery came from every monster and entity being explained, often getting their own POV. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially of your aiming for dark fantasy instead of horror, the exposition was often very "tell don't show" and provided without any kind of prompting.
As fair warning to those not prepared for it, this book contains a lot of sex. Usually sex between women and not-human-things (thus the so-much-squick comment above.) And there's a ton of references to arousal at the stranges of times, to a point where it became comical.
Catwoman Vol. 1: Trail of the Catwoman by Ed Brubaker & Darwyn Cooke (4 of 5 stars)
Genre: Crime, Mystery, Superheroes
The first part didn't quite grab me, but when the book got going it got good, so four stars. By this I mean that I liked the intro with Selina and the plan getting set in motion, but then...SPOILERSStark happened. He was just a big cliché. I mean, he could have worked if there had been some character development, but in this story there was none to be had for him. That made be think the flashbacks to him "saving" Selina was a quick reference to backstory established in some earlier comic where Catwoman's made an appearance.
But nope. This is the introduction of Stark and also his final bow. We're supposed to believe that Selina and him have this long, complicated relationship, but the flashbacks we get of them are vague and don't really show why they interact. I mean, why did Stark take an interest in Selina? Because she was hot? Because she'd been keeping her friends safe? What?! Had he been stalking her? Had he heard of her more than in passing? Flashback tells us nothing. He just shows up and starts talking about dignity without having any previous connection to Selina and bam, she goes with him and they get together.
...yeah. Why did Selina need some random dude to show up and say one word to make her turn her life around anyways? I much prefer the version where she slowly comes to terms with what she wants and doesn't want her life to be while learning martial arts. That has some build-up and it isn't just "hey girl, you need this man to show up and explain you a thing". Stark could have been done well and they could have worked as lovers, if there had been some basis for it. But the reader gets to know nothing about his motivations or Selina's for that matter, thus their relationship is just sort of stated more than told. We're just supposed to accept it as fact.
Maybe I need to read "Batman: Ego and Other Tails" to get Stark, but since that came out 5 years after his introduction, it's a little late.
And speaking of men who end up caring for Selina based on vague vagueness, what's up with Slam Bradley? They built up the tension for how Selina "turned him" to her side so well and then it ended in nothing. She basically just goes "could you not tell anyone I'm alive?" and he goes "sure". There is some mumbled exposition about how he for some reason comes to care for her during his investigation, but he never outright states why. We're just supposed to understand, somehow.
Well, I don't. Has Catwoman got secret mind control powers? Has she been crossed with Poison Ivy? I just don't know./END SPOILERS
But other than that, I enjoyed this story once we got past the "here are some characters and they do things for reasons we won't bother to really explain to you". Slam Bradley is an interesting character once his introduction is over and done with, I loved all the scenes with Batman, I loved Selina's soul searching and finding a way to enjoy life again and I liked Holly (because she both has a long history with Selina, has a real good reason to trust and be loyal to Selina and gets backstory and relations outside of Selina, huzzah for that!)
All in all, worth a read
Domovoi by Peter Bergting (4 of 5 stars)
Genre: Urban Fantasy
A very enjoyable read if you're in the mood for a fairytale (which you can see from my rating that I was.) The plot is clear-cut and the setting is interesting, with a lot of implied world-building. I say implied because the story isn't a long one and thus there's only room for so much exposition and backstory. Personally I think that fit the story. While it leaves the reader without a deeper understanding of the characters' motivations, they are still developed enough through dialogue and action to be understandable. That said, some motivations are unknown or only hinted at, which creates a feeling of being an observer, a listener to a fairytale that takes place in a world I'd love to know more about.
Also, talking cats are always awesome.
Fuan no Tane Puls by Nakayama Masaak (4 of 5 stars)
This was wonderfully creepy! Not all of the stories, of course, since there were some that felt more like fantasy (and some made me feel sorry for the "ghosts"), but that only made the mood when the really creepy parts came up better.
There is a bit of a cultural barrier here, I think, since none of the urban legends are explained (just like most people online these days never bother to explain what Slenderman is exactly), but it doesn't hurt the stories overly much.
Just be prepared of there being no endings. All the stories end abruptly, usually just as the creepy things as starting to happen. That worked for me, but it might not for everyone. It's a book of snapshots of ghost encounters, pretty much.
Huge bonus plus for the art! Some of the images sent more chills down my spine than the stories themselves.
Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist (3 of 5 stars)
Genre: Horrors (Zombies), Fantasy, Science Fiction
This book had many things I liked and some I didn't like as much, thus the three stars. It was an interesting and realistic take on the fantastic situation portrayed, and the characters were compelling and relatable. The scenes were grief was the subject were very well written and I will admit to getting tear-y-eyed more than once. The creepy scenes, surprisingly few with a premise like this, were also well executed.
That said, I felt some of the characters didn't quite get a clear ending, while others did, which results in a story where it feels like there are a few pages missing. This also goes for the things that were and weren't explained. I don't mind plots like these being left as mysterious at the end as at the beginning, but since we do get some explanation to what's going on it left me almost feeling cheated when the rest wasn't explained as well.
House of Mystery Vol. 1-8 by Matthew Sturges, Bill Willingham & Luca Rossi (3,5 of 5 stars)
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Mystery
(Review of Vol. 1). This was definitely my kind of comic, though I think it might not be for everyone. I love the house as the framing device of the other stories, I love the mystery of the house and I'm interested in learning more about the characters and why it is they've ended up where they are!
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (5 of 5 stars)
Genre: Science Fiction
This is exactly my kind of book. The plot of exploring first contact and how that can work was very engaging, as was the exploration of a society that wasn't bi-gendered (at least not all the time) and the characters were well developed and interesting.
I've seen a few comments on how the story was filled with stereotypes and I would like to partially disagree. Yes, the characters from women/men societies tend to think in stereotypes when describing the people of the planet Winter, but those are the characters' thoughts. Nothing in the story itself indicates that what they think is hard fact (for example: one character thinks the whole no-full-scale-wars-on-Winter thing is because there are no "men" to mess things up... only to later speculate that, uh, maybe it's because it's COLD, VERY VERY COLD ALL THE TIME, so war on a larger scale is too "dangerous" for all involved). I actually think it's a very nice speculation on how people who live in bi-gendered socities tend to "need" to put people in "woman or man" boxes and that they fall back on stereotypes if they can't immediately do that.
Yes, it's very annoying when the main character thinks about how women are so very different from him, and how he tries to sort the people he meets into male/female (usually thinking of less good characteristics as feminine), and yet when another character asks him what women are like the main character can't formulate a clear answer. That, I think, was very telling.
I think a lot of what makes the description of gender in this book off-putting to some readers comes from a common trope used in other science fiction stories; the incredibly equal society. For example, Star Trek. The "good guys" or "more advanced guys" (in this book the main character and the alliance he represents) are supposed to be "enlightened" about the whole sexism/racism/ableism/etc. thing. But clearly they're not, at least not enough to meet Starfeelt's approval.
I will admit to being put off too the first time the main character began thinking in negative stereotypes. But as the story progressed I remembered 1) this story wasn't written in the 21th century and 2) the main character clearly isn't from the "usual" all-genders-are-absolutely-equal sort of "Starfleet".
In short, this book is an interesting look at a possible first contact story and an equally interesting look at the fact that there is no "neutral" way to look at another culture.
The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter (4 of 5 stars)
Genre: Science Fiction
I really enjoyed this book! The cliff hanger ending was a bit of a let down, since it felt like too many things were left unresolved, but since there is a sequel I don't think I can complain too much about that. The style of the book might not be for everyone, even though I personally liked it; it's very much an "observe and wait" kind of story.
There's only one character (and by extent those he travels with) that gets developed over the story and even his journey is limited due to the flashes back and forth between other characters and times. As I said I think that fits with the book and creates a good mood, but others may disagree with me.
I liked that the book had no 100% clear goal. Yes, there is a sort of goal, but the expected pay-off is very vague and there are a lot of other threats and goals that rush by in the "side stories" that distract from the main cast's mission. This, to me, created a feeling that I was viewing documents, journals and recordings regarding an important time in a civilization's development. If you're looking for something different from that, this might not be the book for you.
Also, for some reason I kept forgetting the age of the main character and kept picturing him as a man in his 50s. Can't put my finger on why though.
Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw (3 of 5 stars)
Genre: Fantasy, Humor
I liked the plot and the sarcastic humor, though it wasn't laugh-out-loud funny. I was honestly curious to see how it would all end and the "twist" of the story I think worked very well and was interesting.
This would have been a four star book for me if it hadn't been for all the unfunny rape jokes. I get that this is black comedy, but to be comedy you have to be funny.
The rest of the dark elements in the novel work because they are bizarre when compared to real life. People who bite the heads off children or construct dungeons for torture do exist, but it's hardly an everyday problem. So merely stating that "well he got to know some things and has been biting heads off children ever since," especially when the characters say it in a matter of fact tone, is funny; dark, but funny.
Simply stating "this person regularly rapes this other person, but we need him so we won't say or do anything about it" isn't funny. It's not even bizarre. It's a sad reminder of how common rape is and how common it is for rapists to get away with it not only without any legal consequences but also without any social repercussions.
So yeah, I would have enjoyed this a lot more if the interesting plot and quite funny jokes and situations hadn't been interrupted by "And here's character X! He rapes and molests unconscious people and nobody cares. Ain't he a perfectly harmless, pathetic rascal?"
Neonomicon by Alan Moore, Antony Johnston & Jacen Burrows (2 of 5 stars)
Genre: Horror (Lovecraft)
Sex was the theme of the day when this was written it seems. The horror works well, but the creepiness vs squick ratio is pretty much 50-50; SPOILERS!seriously, fishman-on-woman-rape is horrific, but in a way that makes you want to take a shower to feel clean again instead of sending shivers down your spine/span>/END SPOILERS. The allusions to different Lovecraft stories are nice, but it's sort of overshadowed by both the "on screen" rapes and the occasional stupidity of the characters.
By this I mostly mean SPOILERS!Agents Lamper and Brears at the orgy/cult meeting. I'm sorry, but FBI agents are better trained than that, aren't they? Taking your contacts out, leaving you unable to defend yourself in a hostile situation? Leaving your guns for anyone to find, not even making sure to be the last people to leave the changing room? Not aborting a mission when things got risky, for no good reason - they even state in story that they can end the mission at any moment since they already have enough evidence. Stupid, stupid, stupid./END SPOILERS
So yeah, the elements of insanity brought on by Things Man Must Not Know were well executed as long as the plot kept away from sex. However, as soon as sex became a central element of the story, it descended into cliches. Most notably SPOILERS!when agent Brears gets pregnant with, you guessed it, Cthulhu, hanging out in her womb/R'lyeh... Seriously, can we have one horror franchise (or fantasy or science fiction for that matter) not involving women getting pregnant with unnatural offspring? It's such a common occurrence that I found myself sighing out loud in frustration when I realized where the plot was going. /END SPOILERS
The Parasol Protectorate book 1-5 by Gail Carriger (4 of 5 stars)
Genre: Mystery, Romance, Steampunk
(Review of book 1). There's a lot of wish fulfillment fantasy going on here, but that is of course not necessarily a bad thing. It's very much a feel good book, read to make you happy and content.
Things I liked about this book: the mystery, the world-building, the character interaction, the fact that no mention was made of the hymen myth (I'm ridiculously happy no such lies were included here) and the fact that both parties of the romance were equally attracted to each other as well as equal in other aspects with culture and society still taken into account.
Things I was less thrilled about: the endless descriptions of clothes (but that's just because I'm not very interested in clothes, so that's not really a criticism) and the fact that it was so very obvious who was going to end up together. I didn't quite enjoy the romance until halfway through the book, since it started out in such a way that it nearly beat me over the head with "root for this couple!"
Supergod by Warren Ellis & Garrie Gastonny (4 of 5 stars)
Genre: Horror, Superheroes
This is a horror story through and through, very much "what humans must not know". If that's what you're looking for, this is a good story. If you aren't looking for violence, body horror and squick (or a cynical take on humanity and the world in general) it might not be your cup of tea.
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore & David Lloyd (4 of 5 stars)
Genre: Science Fiction (Dystopia)
It's been a while since I saw the movie (yes, I'm yet another person who saw the movie before I read the graphic novel,) so I can't remember it in detail, but this certainly felt different.
I don't mean to say I didn't like it or that I didn't like the movie; I enjoyed them both. But the movie was more character focused. The tragedy happening was Evey's, Evey's friends' and V's. In the graphic novel, the tragedy is the world's. The slower pace, the wider scope, they both serve to give the war and its aftermath an impact that's about the world and society as a whole. That doesn't make the graphic novel better, in my opinion, but a different kind of good.
The only reason this didn't reach 5 stars for me was that a lot of the "evil" people were evil and/or detached from reality to an almost cartoonish degree. While some really were just ordinary people doing horrific things to their fellow humans, we've also got one guy who's in love with a computer he thinks of as god, one woman who abuses her husband yet uses him to get to power (like we needed another "BDSM is evil and wrong and only the bad guys do that", see also V's speech to Justice), a priest who's a pedophile and everyone on the "evil" side are just fine and dandy with that etc. etc.
Still, it never got too over the top and the story did have a very firm grounding in reality. Loved Evey at the end of the story - it felt more concluded than the movie and Evey's character got even more development.
Wild Rock by Kazusa Takashima (3 of 5 stars)
Genre: Romance (Boys Love)
I'm basically giving this story three stars because it contained all consensual sex. No rape here and seeing how rare that is in BL (or the romance genre in general), that is worth an extra star.
Other than that, this book is very average. It's all taller guy/shorter guy, love at first sight and no real plot. Sappy, overly dramatic at times and you've read it all before. But it's also sweet and full of mutual love, so that's always a plus.
Oh, I also liked that SPOILERS!the "feminine guys puts on a dress and everyone thinks he's female"-trope was subverted, since that trick didn't even last a second./END SPOILERS