Review – Nepture Noir edited by Rob Thomas

Title: Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars

Editor: Rob Thomas

Star Rating: * * *

Genre: Literary and pop culture analysis

Note: Review copy obtained from NetGalley.

Cover - Neptune Noir

Synopsis and Background

Before I can talk about the book, I have to talk about a TV show: Veronica Mars. Long story short, go watch it. Go watch it right now! I am not generally a TV person, but Veronica Mars is one of my absolute favourite stories. It’s a noir mystery series with a spunky teenage girl as the protagonist. It’s dark, morally challenging, and has a complex and imperfect female main character that drives the show forward. The show ran for three seasons, but was cancelled in 2007.

So why talk about a TV series that was cancelled several years back? In 2013, a massively successful Kickstarter campaign was launched to fund a new Veronica Mars movie, and that movie was released on March 14, 2014 (check your local theatres!). The movie takes place several years after the series when Veronica is a fully fledged adult coming back to Neptune to help out an old friend. I went to see it on opening night, and I can guarantee that fans are going to enjoy this new addition to the Veronica Mars canon!

But what about Nepture Noir? This book is a compilation of essays written about various literary and social aspects of the series with commentary from Rob Thomas, the creator of the series. The essay authors, fans of the series themselves, explore many different aspects of the show, including the symbolism that it uses, and discussions about why the show worked so well.

The Good

If you have not watched Veronica Mars, this book is not for you (yet). But for fans, it’s an interesting addition to the series that celebrates some of the best aspects of the show.

Some of the essays are quite unique, and I really quite enjoyed Chris McCubbin’s piece on why Veronica Mars has a surprisingly big conservative fanbase, and Lawrence Watt-Evans’s character analysis of the cars used in the show. I was also a big fan of the two essays from Joyce Millman and Amy Berner on the role of fathers in the show, particularly the focus on Keith Mars who is one amazing fictional dad. While there was nothing truly ground-breaking presented in this volume, the authors caught onto little details that add quite a bit to one’s experience of the series.

The Bad

Despite my enjoyment, there are some downsides to the book. For one, the pieces were all written before the third and final season came out, so there is a lot of speculating about future development that is no longer relevant as the show moved forward. But since I enjoyed seasons 1 and 2 quite a bit more than season 3, this didn’t bother me at all.

For people looking for more critical academic work on this show, Neptune Noir is more of a lighter, analytical look at the show. This isn’t a fault unless you come in looking for something deeper than you will get, so don’t expect scholarly quality and depth. Just enjoy a series of essays produced by a bunch of articulate fans of the series.

There was only one essay that I truly did not like in Neptune Noir, and that was Heather Havrilesky’s “The Importance of Not Being Earnest”. Before I explain my discomfort, I should give readers a spoiler warning for the show and a trigger warning for content involving sexual assault. One of the most controversial plot elements of Veronica Mars is that the main protagonist is a rape survivor. It’s an integral aspect of her backstory, and part of the reason that she is so driven to root out the evil in Neptune. In Havrilesky’s essay, she concentrates on talking about Veronica as a world-weary teen that has crossed into adulthood too soon, specifically in relation to her views on love. She applauds Veronica’s maturity in understanding that love isn’t this perfect state of being, and that the people you love can hurt you. She then goes on to talk about her first high school breakup. However, this comparison is pretty tasteless when one realises that Veronica’s issues with love arise out of the fact that her first love dumped her without telling her why (and she later finds out that it’s because they might be half-siblings), shortly thereafter, her best friend was brutally murdered, the entire town then turned on Veronica and her father for attempting to solve the crime (Veronica’s dad was the sheriff at the time), she was drugged and raped at a party when she tried to fit back in with her former group of friends, the new sheriff refused to believe her when she reported the assault, and her mother ran off when her father lost his job. In short, Veronica’s views on love have been affected by some severely violent and emotionally disturbing events that are not equal to an average high school breakup. To compare to the two diminishes the severity of the harms that Veronica suffered, so the essay, despite saying some interesting things, left me uncomfortable and frustrated.

Final Thoughts

If you like Veronica Mars, Neptune Noir is probably going to be a fun and thoughtful addition to the series as you wait for what Rob Thomas is going to produce next (and fans should know that the Veronica Mars movie continues in book form with the release of The Thousand Dollar Tan Line on March 25th!).

 

Review – Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London by Sylvain Cordurié

Title: Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London

Authors: Sylvain Cordurié (Author), Laci (Illustrator)

Star Rating: * * *

Genre: Graphic Novel, Mystery, Paranormal

NOTE: Review copy obtained via NetGalley. Publication date is February 11, 2014.

Cover - Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London

Synopsis

After the events at Reichenbach Falls, Sherlock Holmes goes into hiding. By convincing everyone that he is dead, he hopes to avoid any reprisals for his part in Moriarty’s death. However, he finds himself drawn back to London for a case from a very strange client. Individuals linked to the royal house are being brutally killed, and it is not the queen that has sent for him, but a demonic master vampire who needs Holmes to track down a rogue monster. With Watson and his wife being threatened, how can Holmes crack this case without handing over his soul to the proverbial devil?

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RRRs: Graphic Novels – Part 2

Continuing on yesterday’s thread of RRRs for graphic novels, here is part two!

1.       The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice – Mike Carey

Cover - The Unwritten Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice

Star Rating: * * * * *

The Unwritten is one of my favourite graphic novels series, and this standalone prequel did not disappoint. Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice gives readers a deeper glimpse into the mind of Tommy’s father. At the same time, a huge chunk of the Tommy Taylor story is revealed. Themes and plots that were hinted at in the main series are shown in detail, and this background helps readers make sense of what is happening to adult Tommy. I also really enjoyed seeing how the Tommy Taylor story was an amalgamation of so many different stories. A definite recommend for fans of the series!

2.       Blacksad – Juan Diaz Canales, Juanjo Guarnido

Cover - Blacksad

Star Rating: * * * * *

Have you ever wanted to read a set of noir mysteries about anthropomorphic animals? Well, you should because Blacksad is amazing. Canales and Guarnido capture the feel of the genre perfectly, and the art is absolutely stunning. I was amazed at just how detailed and carefully composed this volume is, and the mysteries themselves were enjoyable and touched on important themes including racism and political corruption. This incredible book is vying for a spot on my top graphic novels of all-time list.

Who could say no to this amazing art?

Blacksad Art Example

 3.       Uglies: Cutters – Scott Westerfeld, Devin Grayson, and Steven Cummings (Illustrator)

Cover - Cutters

Star Rating: * *

The Uglies is a four book series by Scott Westerfeld that dealt with a dystopia where everyone was made pretty, but brain damaged in order to maintain social order. The books starred Tally Youngblood, a girl who tried to protest the system, but kept finding herself used by those in power. It was an interesting and fun series, but I always thought that Tally’s friend Shay was far more interesting than Tally herself. This graphic novel series, therefore, was made for me. Grayson and Cummings retell the Uglies story through the eyes of Shay, a character that is actually quite a bit more active in her choices than Tally, and they do so in the form of a manga.

Cutters is the second volume of the Shay series, and while I enjoyed the first retelling, this one was not quite as enjoyable. The problem with a retelling is managing to keep the story interesting without repeating everything that went on in the original work. Unfortunately, Cutters loses this balance, and the story is choppy and feels incomplete. These narrative choices make it difficult to follow what is going on, even if you’ve read the original series. I also found the art to be a detriment to the story. In this volume, Tally and Shay are pretties, young adults who have undergone extensive plastic surgery to become aesthetically perfect. However, the manga style that this story is drawn in makes it hard to distinguish pretties from uglies! I would recommend this book for fans of the series, but I hope that volume three addresses some of these problems.

4.       Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand – Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, and Ramon K Perez

Cover - Tale of Sand

Star Rating: * *

If I was rating this book solely on the art, it would have received a five star rating. The illustrations are gorgeous in their fluidity and delicateness. The story, however, is lacking. A dude is trying to make it across the desert and a bunch of weird stuff happens to him (including some racist caricatures). It’s not really a story so much as a collection of emotional vignettes, but since I felt no connection to the characters, it was hard for me to engage with these feelings. I’m glad this was a library read rather than something that I purchased since I am unlikely to reread it again.

5.       Habibi – Craig Thompson

Cover - Habibi

Star Rating: *

Craig Thompson is one of the super stars of modern graphic novels, and Habibi is widely seen as an absolutely stunning piece of work. I, on the other hand, loathed it and couldn’t even bring myself to finish. While the art is beautiful and detailed, showing that that the author spent a lot of time researching his subject, it’s also sexually exploitive, and the themes that the novel brings up make me very uncomfortable.

The story centers on the tale of Dodola and Zam, two refugee slave children who are attempting to survive on their own. Dodola is a highly sexualised character, often portrayed naked and in sensuous poses. However, she is raped multiple times, and engages in sex work to ensure that she can feed Zam and herself. Zam falls in love with her, and I had to stop reading around the point where he begins to fantasise himself as the one who is assaulting Dodola. It is rare that I don’t finish novels that I start, but flipping through the rest of this behemoth of a book showed me that Dodola was going to undergo more exploitation, and the way that it was presented made my stomach churn as her naked body was portrayed in a sexualised manner that did little to showcase the violence of what was happening to her. I was also very uncomfortable with the racist implications of much of the novel. All in all, this is one of my least favourite graphic novels, and I can’t in good conscience recommend it.

Review – Thumbprint by Joe Hill and Jason Ciaramella

Title: Thumbprint

Author: Joe Hill, Jason Ciaramella, Vic Malhotra (Illustrator)

Stars: * *

Genre: Graphic Novel, Murder Mystery, Horror

Cover - Thumbprint

Today’s review is a bit shorter than normal and not in my usual style because I do not have a whole lot to say about Thumbprint. I received a copy of this graphic novel off of Net Galley, so I wanted to make sure that I completed a review. However, I didn’t actually enjoy the book all that much. There isn’t much objectively wrong with Thumbprint, it’s just not what I expected from Joe Hill. I am a big fan of his Locke and Key series, but his fantasy-horror books have nothing to do with this latest war-based work.

Thumbprint is the story of a woman soldier coming home from the war in Iraq after having done horrible things. She’s got PTSD and flashbacks, and is absolutely convinced that someone is out to get her. As it turns out, the threats that she is receiving are not a paranoid delusion, and part of her past life is coming back to hurt her.

It’s not that the story in Thumbprint is necessarily uncompelling, it’s just that I’ve read similar tales before and this one isn’t really giving readers a new perspective. There’s a lot of graphic violence and shock tactics in use, but I’ve seen these things before, and frankly, their use in stories is starting to strike me as a bit gratuitous. The biggest weakness of Thumbprint is that its grand message is not particularly grand. Human cruelty is a reality, and war messes people up quite badly. I would have appreciated a theme that was a bit more subtle and nuanced, and an ending that was clearer in what it was trying to convey.

All of the above being said, there are people out there who are going to love Thumbprint. In many ways, it is a short and powerful work. It didn’t do much for me, but I am already very familiar with the horrors of war (thank you, political science background and general news junkieness). There are those for whom this will be a new and horrifying story, and this book may be a five-star read for them. However, this review should serve as a warning to those who are coming in because they love Joe Hill’s work in general. This is not Locke and Key, and you will be disappointed if you are looking for a similar story in this book.

Review – How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

Title: How the Light Gets In

Authors: Louise Penny

Star Rating: * * * * *

Genre: Mystery/Crime

Cover - How the Light Gets In

Note: Heavy spoilers throughout the entire review!

Synopsis 

After the events in A Beautiful Mystery, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache finds himself almost alone in his battle against those in Sûreté who want to destroy him. He and Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir have not spoken in months, the homicide department has been gutted and stacked with disloyal agents, and it seems like Gamache is about to lose everything that he has worked for during his career. However, the Chief Inspector is not ready to give in quite yet.

There are two central plots being dealt with in this book. As with each of the novels, a murder has been committed, and it once again involves the village of Three Pines. One of Myrna’s acquaintances was murdered in her home as she was packing to visit, and during the investigation it comes out that she was one of the famous Ouellet quintuplets. To solve this case, Gamache must explore her background as a child used by her country as a commodity, and try to uncover who could have possibly wanted to violently murder a quiet woman who had absolutely no friends or close loved ones.

As he attempts to solve this mystery, Gamache is also trying to root out corruption in the Sûreté and determine exactly who managed to avoid capture during the infamous Arnot case. As he gets closer to exposing the closely held secrets of his enemies, he and his allies must flee Montreal for their safety. Who can they trust to help them, if anyone, and can they figure out what Gamache’s enemies are planning before more people die?

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