Monday 8 September 2014

August: What I Read, What I Watched, What I'm Reading

Flying in late YET again with my August reviews and wrap-up, oooops.  Hello!  How was your late-summer reading?  I feel like mine finally picked up a bit last month; I finished Lamb at last and leapt head-first into some long-awaited novellas from the library.  The impending 'final deadline' really boosted me to drive hard at my reading towards the end of August, because I desperately wanted to read these books and I'd had them for so long I couldn't renew them any more!  It's amazing how much time you find to read when you have the threat of library fines at your back.  :)
~ What I Read ~
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
by Christopher Moore
My first priority in August was to FINALLY finish Lamb, which I'd been reading since I went on holiday at the end of June.  I'd put it aside for some frothy summer reading and to finish a non-fiction book I'd been struggling to get through, so it was about time!  Happily, it lived up to all the rave reviews and Moore-hype I've seen everywhere over the past few years.  The basic premise is that Christ's oldest friend Biff has been resurrected by an angel and locked in a hotel room to write his own gospel - the real story of Joshua's life, filling in the massive gap between 'born in stable' and 'thirty and preaching the Word'.  Christopher Moore being a clever and hilarious dude, this manages to incorporate everything from Buddhist philosophy and the wisdom of the Kings of Orient to kung-fu and a Yeti, as Joshua sets about learning how to be the Messiah.  It's such an absorbing read, very intelligent, very funny, yet surprisingly wise and poignant sometimes too.  Definitely a keeper - I gave it 4.5 stars - and I see many more Christopher Moore novels in my future!

The Forest of Hands and Teeth (TFoHaT 1)
by Carrie Ryan
I'd heard a lot of good things about this book, and had been looking for it at the library for AGES, so when I finally spotted it on the reshelving trolley I grabbed it!  A zombie novel whose synopsis reminded me a bit of The Village - human enclave, very insular and ordered, evil things trying to breach the fences - this sadly turned out to be a tad disappointing.  The actual zombie mythology of Ryan's world is interesting, and the book definitely kept me hooked, but I had some problems with it too.  I felt like it set up more questions than it answered, paving the way for future books in the series in a way that was more frustrating than enticing, and I really wasn't keen on the main character, Mary.  She is extremely self-absorbed and self-obsessed, playing with people's hearts and constantly putting herself and others in danger through her reckless need to follow her whims instantly instead of thinking them through.  Of course everyone around her pays the price, and yet she never seems to learn!  I've picked up the next book, The Dead-Tossed Waves, mostly because it has a complete character shift so... no more Mary and her stupidity!  Hopefully I'll like this one better, and it'll fill in some of those unanswered questions that bugged me in the first book...  3 stars.

Ghost World
by Daniel Clowes
I loved the movie version of Ghost World as a teenager, so when Ellie (the Curiosity Killed the Bookworm branch of the Ellie Army) offered to send on her copy of the graphic novel, I eagerly accepted.  And I'm so glad I did!  To start with I wasn't sure I was going to like the style, either in terms of the art work OR the dialogue, but the further I delved, the more I appreciated it.  It's actually made up of several short and largely self-contained vignettes that fall along a linear timeline, rather than following one big story arc, which probably helped, because I could dip into it for light relief in between chapters of the Carrie Ryan novel.  It had its kooky moments, and its poignant ones, and it was a good excuse to watch the movie again for the first time in years.  I think I like the adaptation more, but it was still a lot of fun!  4 stars.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
by Shirley Jackson
Finally, I read my first Shirley Jackson!  Jean over at Bookish Thoughts talks about her a fair bit, so I thought it was about time I gave her a go.  My local bookshops failed epically, but the library fared better and I picked We Have Always Lived in the Castle to start me off.  This book is more about atmosphere and character than plot, concentrating on an insular household comprising eighteen year-old oddball Merricat, her older sister Constance, her cat Jonas, and their eccentric uncle.  The rest of their family was killed in bizarre circumstances and the townspeople hate, ridicule and fear them in equal measure - all they have is their house, each other and their unchanging domestic routine.  Until a money-grabbing cousin unexpectedly arrives and brings their world tumbling down around them, that is...  The description and prose in this novella is beautiful, and the inside of Merricat's strange mind is quite fascinating.  It's fairly sedately paced, with the exception of one genuinely heartbreaking scene of chaos and misery that made me feel sick to the stomach, but it flows well and I never felt like it was dragging at all.  A hard one to describe all round, really... My best advice is just to read it for yourself!  4 stars - I'll definitely be reading more Shirley Jackson soon!

A Single Man
by Christopher Isherwood
Another beautiful little novella that's far more focussed on character, thought and ambience than it is on plot - and is thus difficult to describe or review in any meaningful way.  This was my first Isherwood - and again, most definitely not my last - and is pretty much a 'day in the life' of George, a British college professor living in Los Angeles.  He is still mourning the (fairly) recent loss of his partner Jim, and finds himself irreparably estranged from the world: from his neighbours and colleagues, because of his sexuality, and from his students, because of his age.  He spends his time perfecting his outer fa├žade, searching for understanding, reflecting on life, and fielding the neuroses of his larger-than-life friend Charlotte.  It's gorgeously written and quietly devastating, and I plan to buy the film soon because if it's even NEARLY as good as this, it's going to be something special.  Another solid 4 stars.

~ What I Watched ~
The Double (2013)
Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska, directed by Richard Ayoade
This film was the reason I finally read my first Dostoyevsky novella back in April (jeez, was it that long ago?!).  The DVD was released in August and I bought it the same week, thanks to the winning (for me) combination of classic source material, 'what is real' mind-fuckery, and the combined talents of Jesse Eisenberg (who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite actors, he's amazing), the lovely Mia Wasikowska and the genius that is Richard Ayoade.  It was... slow, not in a bad way... extremely dark, blackly funny, strange and unsettling, picking up pace and getting simultaneously more coherent yet more warped as the movie went on.  The numerous cameos from Ayoade's fellow comedians (Tim Key), IT Crowd friends (Chris O'Dowd, Chris Morris) and cast members from his previous film Submarine (Sally Hawkins, Craig Roberts AND Paddy Considine) were fun to spot, but felt a bit out of place in such a pitch-black film.  I definitely preferred it to the book and will be watching it again at some point to see how much more I get from it the second time around.  Cautiously recommended.  (watch the trailer)

Ghost World (2001)
Starring Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi, directed by Terry Zwigoff
I finished the graphic novel during the last Bout of Books readathon, so it made sense to round off my BoB week by watching the movie, for the first time in YEARS!  It had so many little moments and snippets of dialogue that translated straight from the page to the screen (as you might expect, given that the screenplay was written by Daniel Clowes), but also gave the characters one film-friendly overarching plot which helped ease the transition between media.  The double act in the film is actually Enid and Seymour (a new character drawn together from several in the book) rather than Enid and Rebecca (who still has an important role, just... less so), but I didn't mind because the dynamic between these two soulmates-yet-polar-opposites was so much fun.  Seymour's a sweetheart and offsets Enid's confident feistiness a bit... it works.  The dialogue is still superb and the whole thing felt as warm and hilarious and full of heart as I remembered.  I also LOVE the music - lots of old blues and country rock, it's great.  Recommended! (watch the trailer)

House, Season 2 (2006)
Starring Hugh Laurie and Omar Epps
I actually watched most of this season aaaaages ago, then recently decided to rewatch it from the start so that I could finally finish it off and move on.  It's pretty much more of the same magic House formula as the first season - brilliant deduction, bucketloads of sarcasm, some nasty moments and lots of medical intrigue.  This season involves everything from a prisoner on death row to a famous doctor with possible TB, a woman with Munchausen Syndrome to an immuno-compromised heart transplant patient, all with a side dose of team bickering, hospital politics and House's ever-present leg pain.  Funny, brilliant, fascinating and moving by turn.  If, like me, you're a latecomer to this series and haven't started it yet, get on it - it more than lives up to the hype! (watch the ridiculously overdramatic US trailer)

~ What's Up Next ~
I finished my first book of September - Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist - on the first of the month, and moved straight on to my Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.  It's my first foray into the world of Hannibal Lecter, so me being me I decided I might as well dive straight in the deep end and not only READ ALL THE HANNIBAL, but also watch the movies and both series as well.  I figured I might as well stick with Hannibal's storyline instead of veering off into the worlds of Norman Bates or Dexter Morgan again just yet.  Each serial killer in his own sweet time!  So far I've been very impressed by the book AND the new series; the book, in particular, is far more accomplished than I expected, and the series is every bit as addictive as the hype suggested.  Bring on the rest!

I have highly inappropriate fantasies about being in this particular man sandwich. NOT LITERALLY DR LECTER PUT THE KNIFE DOWN.
Aaaand that was August!  I hope you've all had a wonderful summer and are looking forward to some great autumn reading!