The Black Tapes: Less is More

I’m not one for horror.

Correction: I’m not one for modern-horror. I’ve found that most modern horror, especially in film, ends up being nothing more than an onslaught of gratuitous slaughter and gore, followed by a few jump-scares. That’s not scary, just startling and gross. No, if I want horror, I want my heart to build to a slow, but steady climb from uneasy skip to terrified gallop; I want the hairs to stand up on the back of my neck; I want to feel the need to keep some kind of light on at night. I want tension, I want atmosphere and mood; I want to constantly question what’s going on and what’s going to happen; I want to hold my breath on the verge of tears, afraid to uncoil my tight body from its braced position.

In other words: terrify me, don’t startle me. After all, the definition I put to horror is a story that elicits a negative emotional reaction from viewers by playing on the audience’s primal fears.

This is why most modern-day horror just does not do it for me, and why I’m not the person you want to try to pitch those kinds of stories to; they’re just not going to interest me. But in 2016, I made a serious exception to this rule. Someone who knows my tastes very well, recommended I listen to a podcast entitled The Black Tapes.

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Review: Splinter

Splinter by Sasha Dawn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Lerner Publishing Group for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via Netgalley for the purpose of review**

This book is…fine. Yeah, fine. It’s solid and it feels like it was fairly well thought through. As a family drama, Splinter brought something to the table, which is the only reason its thriller succeeds the way that it does. If the family dynamics hadn’t been so well established, this thriller would have come off as maudlin, ridiculous, or, worse, wholly predictable. Were there some things that I had guessed? Sure, but I will give that the book certainly gave you plenty of red herrings to fall for, and they’re executed well.

On the whole, a solid thriller that doesn’t bring me anything amazing, but certainly brought something that I could enjoy at times.

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The Film Was Wide Enough

“Come on, Tom. Let’s finish this the way we started: together.” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2)

I want to start with this blanket statement: adaptation is not easy, and I know from practical experience as a member of the media industry. Having majored in Digital Video & Cinema at university, I had more than one class where I not only studied the art of adaptation, but had to try my hand at writing speculative adaptive scripts. While rewarding, those were some of the most difficult scripts to crank out.

I think it’s easy to fall into what I like to call “purist mode” and say something to the effect of: “I could make this film and keep everything and it would totally work.” Well, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you — no, it wouldn’t. And this is not only in terms of film as art, but also film as business. A filmmaker has maybe 120-minutes at best (180 if you’re lucky) to hold an audience captive, and that’s not often enough to adapt a multi-Harry_potter_deathly_hallows_part_2_poster.jpghundred-page novel. Beyond that, one has to take into account that the majority of films are high-cost risks for everyone involved. Now, I could go into a wealth of specifics on the topic of adaptation, but I’ll boil down my thoughts to this: if I can understand or justify an adaptive change in my head, then I’m usually going to be okay with it.

The Harry Potter films were, in my opinion, great films on a standalone level, and I also think they are fantastic adaptations of quite high quality, with perhaps the exception of Half-Blood Prince. While I can understand the “why” related to its cutting a good deal of important information — backstory does not make for good movie —  it still bothers me as a fan. That’s an adaptation change I can justify in my head from an objective standpoint and, while disagreeing with it as a fan, I can move along and leave it be. But there is, however, one very significant adaptive change within the final film of this series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, with which I draw umbrage: the final duel between Harry and Voldemort.


SPOILER WARNINGThis post will contain spoilers for the entirety of the Harry Potter series, films and books alike. If you have not yet read or watched all of the Harry Potter stories, this is your chance to turn back now. You’ve been warned.

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Review: Wintersong

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via Netgalley for the purposes of review**


Well I heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this: the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

I’ll admit it: I went into this book with little expectations. It sounds terrible, but I never meant in a way that implied a potential lack of quality. I went into this book joking that, after reading its premise, as long as it gave me a sexy Goblin King upon whom I could project the image and persona of David Bowie’s Jareth from Labyrinth, then I would probably enjoy it no matter what.

And, at first, I would say that’s certainly what this book did. Der Erlkönig is mysterious and alluring in the way goblins and the fae appear in many a tale. While I am certainly no expert in the field of goblin lore, what bits I saw, I recognised with ease. But what was even more exciting was recognizing the Classical allusions this book drew — namely, that it evoked the myth of Hades and Persephone with a dash of Orpheus.

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to her kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

The story of Hades and Persephone is one that appears in many a fictional work — Beauty & the Beast, The Phantom of the Opera, V for Vendetta to name a few that are well-known — but it’s one that I think is fiendishly hard to do well. You see, I find that many a creator doesn’t know quite how to handle their Persephone. She is often too mewling, too timid, and she never quite ascends to being the equal of her Hades. That was the beauty of the myth: for all of its many issues involving the lack of consent and such in the early tellings (c.f. Hesiod’s Theogony), Persephone always ascends to the side of her husband as his equal.

The Ancient Greeks feared Persephone just as much as they did Hades, in some respects even more sore. She was the Queen of the Underworld while also a goddess of the spring; she is both life and death, and her movement between the world of the living and the Underworld controls the entire cycle.

So when I see that this story become about a girl — a young woman, really, who chooses to give herself up to the Goblin King, the one who is king of the Underground, for the purposes of playing with the laws of spring and winter, the very thing that controls harvests that mean life or death for humanity, it is no longer just the fluffy paranormal romance story story of a sexy Goblin King and some female protagonist I can (usually) forget with relative ease. This becomes a story of growth, of power and sacrifice, and, yes, of love as well. If you’re any kind of scholar or fan of Hades/Persephone myth, I think there are many things you are sure to enjoy seeing in this tale.

Baby I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

But, as I mentioned before, there is a dash of Orpheus, and I’d wager it’s little coincidence that this myth is directly referenced within the novel. Because, you see, there are not two main characters; there are three. Elisabeth, The Goblin King, and the music.

I didn’t know this book would be as much about music as it would be about the triumph of living and knowing thyself. But S. Jae-Jones’ poetic prose captures the ecstasy of music in its pages. It captures the qual parts joy and pain — that silent scream into the void we offer up from the depths of our soul when we listen to music that moves us, when we are inspired. When we dare, too, to bare our own souls to the world and create. It captures both the wild abandon and the fragile tenderness.

Maybe there’s a God above
All I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

And in its final chapters, this haunting, beautiful book gripped its heart in its talons and wrung every bit of pain and joy from it so that I was feeling everything, all at once. It sunk its claws into my soul and I will admit that I was having a hard time holding back tears. Something about this book and the way that S. Jae-Jones wove together myth and music and magic struck a chord deep within me, and I got so much more out of this book than I ever expected to.

I’m sure there are people who will love to point out all the flaws that exist in this novel, and I am the first to admit that it is not perfect. It is, as those lyrics suggest, a “broken hallelujah” that rings truer in its imperfections.

*nota bene: I would not, normally, frame a review around song lyrics — let alone song lyrics that do not even appear within the novel itself. But something about this novel had me repeating these lyrics in my head over and over while reading. And while I would have loved to have peppered this review with a plethora of quotes from the novel, that’s just too many spoilers, I think, and the words within this book deserve to be a private moment experienced by the reader.

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Mad’s Favourite Book of 2016: MORNING STAR by Pierce Brown

2016 was a great reading year for me: my average star-rating on Goodreads was 3.9, so of the 143 books that I read, I enjoyed the majority of them. You’d think that having to pick a favourite from that list would be difficult, and had it not been for this book, I probably would have had a hard time narrowing it down from the list I originally made.

So, before I begin unabashedly gushing about my favourite, a quick little moment for the honorable mentions that were all so close, but not quite there: Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, Dictator by Robert Harris, The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski, The Black Count by Tom Reiss, A Court of Mist and Fury by Sara J. Maas, Nevernight by Jay Kristoff, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Kill the Father by Sandrone Dazieri, Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, and Augustus by John Williams.

Right, now that that’s through: to the favourite!

Once upon a time, a man wrote a Red book and shot my emotions out of an airlock into the cold, dark vacuum of space. I thanked him for it, and moved on to the Golden sequel which took my heart and pummeled it into pieces so small, I was no longer sure there was anything left within the cavity of my chest. And so I plunged into darkness, whatever remains of that life-organ too terrified to beat for fear that this man and his Morning Star would truly obliterate it for good.

It’s no secret to anyone who either knows me in person or follows me on the internet that I adore the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown — they are definitely my kind of books, filled to the brim with Classical allusions, full of heart-stopping battle sequences, and featuring a diverse range of rich, complex characters that make me laugh, cry, and swear in equal measure. The ever more prescient commentary the trilogy provides on politics and power, prejudice, and general humanity make me re-read it continuously, finding ever more parallels to our world — the good, and the not-so-good.

Besides all of the feels that this book provides me, I love how kinetic it is: it’s relentless, rarely pausing to let you catch your breath as it thunders its way to its gory and brutal, yet wholly satisfying and well-earned conclusion. And yet, through all of that, it never lets you forget that every action has a consequence; everything has a cost, and the people we love can die, sometimes for seemingly no reason at all.

I have a hard time trying to keep this post short, as I’d happily sit and ramble for pages and pages on every detail of Morning Star that I loved, and then continue on by going back to Red Rising and Golden Son to ramble about their high points as well — is this a perfect trilogy? Probably not, but it’s perfect for me, and it’s hard to imagine my fiction-loving life without these books.

This trilogy, and especially its conclusion, speak for itself, and I, as a reader, feel lucky to have been graced with Pierce Brown’s magnificent gift for storytelling. And, like many a Howler across the world, am now eagerly awaiting what he will bring us when showing the consequences of revolution in Iron Gold.

Omnis vir lupus.

Review: Frostblood

Frostblood by Elly Blake
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing me a digital ARC of this novel vial Netgalley for the purposes of review**

This is painful for me to write. I’ll be honest: I didn’t go into this book with particularly high expectations…but I at least expected to be entertained in some way. Unfortunately this book has numerous issues which kept me from liking it.

I’m sure there are many people who will draw parallels to other famous YA novels such as Red Queen and Hunger Games, and while I can’t speak to the former, I can speak to the latter — which is that I don’t enjoy it. If I had known this book would emulate either of these novels, I can guarantee I would not have picked it up. If I had known this book would hew so closely to its formula — fantasy ruler is A, protagonist is B, watch her burn it all down — I would not have picked it up.

That is to say there aren’t some good things. There are, at the very least, two moments that stand out in my mind as actually being a positive reading eperience (of sorts) and allowing this book to get more than a one-star rating.

The first is a lore-dump via a storyteller who lays down the foundation for what is, essentially, the “creation myth” of this world. Normally I’m not a fan of lore-dumps, but when they’re mythological in content, I’m usually a little more interested and, in the case of this book, was desperate for anything within this novel that might, in some way, illuminate what this novel was supposed to be about.

And while I enjoyed seeing the Four Winds as characters, I was admittedly curious as to why the Greek name of Eurus was used for the East Wind, and yet the North is represented by Fors (no mythology), the South by Sud (French word for “south” and similar to Sudri, one of the dwarves of the dvärgar in Norse mythology), and the West by Cirrus (no mythology, but a type of cloud). If I weren’t a student of Classical myth, would I have noticed this? Probably not, but as someone who is overly-familiar with this topic, it’s frustrating to see the names thrown in there like some kind of mythology soup. I think it would have been better if Blake had either (a) stuck completely to one particular mythological naming-scheme and reference base, or (b) just not used Eurus as the name for her East Wind god.

Secondly, there is a moment in which Ruby burns another character, Brother Arcos, and he responds with unreserved anger, and yet control. It was a standout moment, for me, in that revealed a good deal about Brother Arcos as a character: here’s a man who has been (literally) burned by someone of the same talent as the protagonist, and so his hatred towards her is steeped in past trauma and an admittedly kind of clunky parallel to simple prejudice. Yes, this novel — as are many novels with plotlines similar to this — is essentially about prejudice, but this moment higlights it best. Brother Arcos was hurt by a Fireblood, and so he projects the pain, hate, and rage related to the trauma of that incident onto Ruby just because she is a Fireblood.

It’s a good moment, but the potential in that moment is never truly seized upon in a meaningful way.

Outside of those two brief moments, there is nothing else I can say I enjoyed about this novel. It took far too long for its plot to show up, and by the time it did, I was fed up with everything about it. There’s nothing particularly original or unique offered in Frostblood, unless the following books in this series suddenly dive deep into the lore and turn this into some novel about warring wind gods — now there’s a book that would definitely pique my curiosity — but I have a sneaking suspicion this is going to be your average “Let’s topple the system” YA fantastical dystopia.

Overall, I know plenty of people who will likely enjoy this novel, but it wasn’t for me.

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