Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Huge Book of Hell (2005)

Author: Matt Groening | Page Count: 157

“I wrote you three times but you never sent me a drawing of Marge Simpson naked.”

A collection of single page sketches culled from Matt Groening's Life in Hell comic strip. It’s difficult to review because comedy is one of the most subjective mediums, so the success of the collection is primarily based on whether you can connect or appreciate Groening’s sense of humour or not.

Stylistically, it has his unique stamp on every page. If you're a fan of the Simpsons, or if it's all you know him from. then you'll recognise and be comfortable with the art style; there's even more than one cameo from some of the cast.

It’s full of wry observations on life, work and family, ironic and sardonic situation jokes and astute political commentary, but unless you agree, disagree or have personally experienced such situations then the impact may be lessened.

It's a mixed bag; some panels work beautifully and some lack spark. For me, it was mostly 'meh', never reaching the heights of Jim Davis or the wonderful Gary Larsen. I can’t complain, though, I got it new in a book sale for less than the cost of an average priced bar of chocolate. Plus, it has bunnies. We like bunnies.

2½ and good for killing time on the shitter out of 5

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers (2005)

Author: Yiyun Li | Page Count: 205

'They were put into satin dresses … and were each fed a cup of mercury. The mercury killed them instantly, so their peachy complexions were preserved when they were paraded in sedan chairs before the coffin.'

If it hadn't been on sale price and I wasn't desperate for something to fill a long journey I’d not have given A Thousand Years a second glance. There were a number of titles I could've chosen that day but something made me purchase Yiyun Li's début. I can’t explain why, because the blurb made it sound like a troubled romance novel and that's not my idea of a good read.

It mixes existing socio-political Chinese history with observations and personal insight in order to explore how cultural identity and familial upbringing influence our decisions and affect our lives. Li strives to highlight the consequences to the individual in a State where weakness is to be avoided and individuality can be seen as a precursor to insurrection. I know that sounds really heavy reading, at times it is, but all of that is secondary to the human story, the personal reasons people do the things they do rises to the surface with a resounding thump in each of the character studies on offer. Her work is about cause and effect, and about following or denying your heart. That’s distilling it to something barely worthy of the text, but is all I can manage in a short space.

Li writes in English and while her prose style is obviously influenced by her Chinese teachings her technique strips the text of all unnecessary chaff, leaving behind the essential and truthful voice of an author inching into greatness.

4½ eunuchs get a bad deal out of 5

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why (2007)

Author: Jay Asher | Page Count: 288

The premise of Thirteen Reasons Why is an interesting one. A girl, Hannah, who recently committed suicide left behind a series of cassette tapes in which she explains the various events that led to her suicide. I feel like Jay Asher had some big message he wanted to send here- there's no concrete reason why people kill themselves, small actions can have a huge effect on others- but he completely misses the art. Hannah is surprisingly unsympathetic, and seems more interested in dragging others down with her than anything else. Most of the things she tears apart others for are minor- voting her "Best Ass", touching her leg on a date- but some of her own actions are pretty sickening.

We experience the tapes via Gary Stu extraordinaire Clay Jensen, and it's him that takes this book from "not very good" to "nearly unreadable". He constantly interrupts Hannah's stories with the most inane interjections, like "wow this milkshake tastes really good" and "that class is really fun" and keeps the story from ever having any sort of flow. The book needed a likable character somewhere, I guess, but Clay's so devoid of flaws that it's irritating, and I can't like anyone who has to interject every 5 minutes to let me know that Hannah was pretty.

1 reason why I need to read better books out of 5

Monday, December 12, 2011

Jumper (1992)

Author: Steven Gould | Page Count: 344
"Then his arm jerked forward and the belt sung through the air and my body betrayed me, squirming away from the impact and...
There was no sign of Dad, but this didn't surprise me. I was in the fiction section of the Stanville Public Library and, while I knew it as well as my own room, I didn't think my father had ever been inside the building.
That was the first time."
Davy is the son of an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother who fled the marriage years before. He soothes his anguish with books and then by becoming a runaway. This is made possible by his ability to teleport anywhere that he has been and has a clear memory of. The ability manifested itself as a way to avoid his father's rage and took him to his sanctuary of books at the local library. Having learned to use the ability to his advantage, Davy relocates to New York and begins living on his own.

Teleportation is an essential of sci-fi that gets a nice domestic spin here which is cool, but is secondary to the main theme of Davy coming to grips with his abuse at the hands his father and others. His struggles bring out his own rage and reveals his greatest fear of becoming an abuser himself. The later chapters focus a bit more on the consequences of his teleporting and push the character growth into the background, but it is still entertaining. An underpinning of science fiction to tell a very human story is a classic literary structure and is put to good use.

4 I liked the movie anyway, Lye out of 5

Friday, December 9, 2011

Monday's Troll (1996)

Author: jack Prelutsky | Illustrator: Peter Sis | Page Count: 40

“Monday’s troll is mean and rotten, Tuesday’s troll is misbegotten”

A collection of 17 short poems Monday’s Troll is a wonderful anthology of rhymes detailing the everyday goings on of trolls, wizards, giants, and other magical beasts and ghoulies. The poems themselves are short and sweet, easy enough for the children to read and comprehend but they are all well put together and incite a chuckle out of the grown up reader. Peter Sis’s drawings are fanciful and lively in their depiction of the little story being told but also have some nice little details here and there that don’t have any real importance to the poem’s main narrative. All of the poems are solid but I do wish they would have chosen a different one to end the book with.
I defiantly would get this for any child who likes poetry, fantasy monsters, or just books in general. 

4 snotty kids talking smack to wizards and getting what was coming to ‘em out of 5

Monday, December 5, 2011

Total Kabbalah (2007)

Author: Maggy Whitehouse | Page Count: 224

If you’ve ever wanted to explore what the tree of life is all about you could trawl the internet for free or you could cough up some cash and start here, get it from someone who lectures in it and has studied it for many years.  The book gives background, general principles and a guide to practical applications.  It’s fully illustrated throughout which helps with visualisations and the repetition helps your mind keep placements and associations; on the flip side some of the illustrations are there for no real purpose and are tenuously linked to the text.
Elsewhere it glosses over a lot of things, both the Tarot and Numerology is mentioned but as each could easily fill a book by themselves they are shuffled to the side and it suffers for that.
The author is a Christian and while she attempts to keep the text relevant to all faiths, or no faith, there are a number of times the Christian perspective takes over completely, particularly at the beginning and the end.  The middle section is mostly non-biased and it’s there that we find the interesting parts; it’s where you feel like a student studying a textbook and not just a casual reader.
Half the book justifies the cost and the other half is interesting but will have no further interest after reading once.  It will have little use to someone already versed in the Kabbalah but for newcomers or those with just a cursory interest it is easily assimilated and easy to understand.

3 large format with pages as thick as backing boards out of 5

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Before I Go to Sleep (2011)

Author: S.J. Watson | Page Count: 368

Before I Go To Sleep is a novel about a woman who wakes up every morning and learns that she has amnesia, that she is married to a total creepazoid, and that, after decades, she is seeing a neurologist whose  groundbreaking method of treating her is having her write down what happened that day in a journal. Most of these characters should've been easy to sympathize with, but truthfully, I was more interested in yelling at them for being so excruciatingly annoying to read about. At times, Christine's neurologist seemed as annoyed as I was, but I couldn't manage to like him either.

S.J. Watson, who I suspect thinks breasts feel like bags of sand, is very obviously not a woman, and did not do the basic research required to learn that they do not, in fact, feel like they exist separately from the rest of your body. The book's incredibly obvious plot twist rests on Watson's lack of knowledge about long term care facilities, and, while I have no experience with treating amnesiacs, I assume that that aspect of the book is badly handled as everything else. I actually physically rolled my eyes at the book's ending and am now glowering at Tess Gerritsen for thinking this is the best debut she has ever read.

If you like Mary Higgins Clark novels or "mysteries" in which there are only two possible solutions, you will probably enjoy this more than I did.

1 reason I need to never read anything that could be described as chick lit out of 5.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Heart-Shaped Box (2007)

Author: Joe Hill | Page Count: 400

"A girl, walking beside a taller boy who sported a yellow bow tie, shrank back against her companion as they went past. Bow Tie put a comforting arm around her shoulders. Jude did not flip them off and then drove for a few blocks feeling good about himself, proud of his restraint. His self-control, it was like iron."

I'm a huge fan of Joe Hill's contributions to the comic world- I think Locke & Key is probably the best comic being published right now- so I was anxious to check out one of his novels as well. I started with Heart-Shaped Box, a novel about an aging musician who finds himself being haunted after purchasing a dead man's suit on the internet. The book started out as a pure horror tale, and had some wonderfully creepy moments, but soon, it became more of a redemption tale than anything else. But as the book became less scary, its characters grew stronger, and it was a gripping read throughout.

At times, I wanted to scream at the characters for failing to put certain pieces of the story together, but the book was involving even when I could tell exactly where it was going. The surprises that do happen are mostly small, but those moments feel special, and give the book's cast more depth. I found the ending to be a little bit unsatisfying. This is partly because figuring things out ahead of time meant that there was no grand reveal scene, but also because it just wasn't my sort of ending, and I suspect many readers will be pleased that things pan out the way they do. All in all, this is a solid debut novel, and I may dive into Hill's second book tonight.

3.5 girls named after states out of 5.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Homecoming (2006)

Author: Ray Bradbury | Illustrator: Dave McKean | Page Count: 56

'And to roars of laughter the chilly hand and the cold moon face lurched away in the roundabout dance.'

Part of the WISP series (Wonderfully Illustrated Short Pieces), Homecoming is a meeting of two exceptionally creative minds: American author Ray Bradbury and British illustrator Dave McKean.  The former is my favourite American author; I can connect many of the significant moments in my life to a particular Bradbury novel I was reading at the time.  McKean is perhaps best known for—and partly responsible for—the  enduring success of The Sandman comic book series.  Both are giants in their respective field.

The text, featuring a ten year-old boy named Timothy, was originally included in The October Country (1955), a collection of macabre-themed shorts.  Timothy is a normal kid with normal thoughts.  That's the problem.  The rest of his family are vampires, ghouls and things that bump in the night.

During All Hallows' Eve the family gather for an old fashioned get-together, but Timothy's being normal means he feels different, unable to fit in.  It’s a reversal of the usual 'weird kid that doesn't fit into society' tale and Bradbury finds the heart of the story effortlessly without sacrificing the innocence and beauty of childhood.  Thematically it’s about family, identity, love and the magic of youth.

It's not McKean's best work but it fits the aesthetic of the story for which it was designed, with scribble lines and dark shadows prevalent.  In truth, even without the illustrations it would be a top scoring tale.

5 smiles for Uncle Einar out of 5