tobin_elliott's reviews
237 reviews

The Thing Classic, Volume 1 by John Byrne, Ron Wilson

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challenging dark emotional funny lighthearted mysterious reflective tense medium-paced

2.5

This was just okay. 

I have to give it to Byrne to try to break out of the standard punch-em-up every issue. He's working to give Ben Grimm so gravitas, some depth, and while I applaud that, it does come across as more of a failed experiment.

The art by Ron Wilson is of the standard, run-of-the-mill artist output of Marvel in the late 70s/early 80s. It gets the job done, but it's rarely memorable.

And that's the bottom line here. Byrne's trying to reinvent Ben Grimm, much like Walt Simonson reinvented Thor, but it's just only okay.
Eldritch Beasts, Volume 1 by Primary Hollow

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dark mysterious slow-paced

2.25

I was really hoping I'd like this book, because there's at least two more that follow it, and I'm always up for cosmic horror.

Unfortunately, I found this not very horrifying, and not cosmic at all.

Here's the thing...Primary Hollow (and damn, that's a quality author handle, isn't it? I love it!) has obviously read Lovecraft, and they've dug deep into the language and syntax. They have embraced words like "macabre" and "abomination" and "uncanny" and "eldritch" and "shamble" and "corruption" etc.

But, they seem to have downplayed some other factors that really shouldn't be downplayed. There's a lot of characters, very quickly sketched in, who show up, encounter a suitably grotesque monster and they either fall to it, or get infected by it or, more often, live to fight another one down the road.

Which is fine, but all these monsters seem to have very little consequence, other than to be grotesque and somewhat horrible monsters. Unfortunately, that carries little horror. There's enough to terrify there, but the characters aren't sympathetic enough for the reader to really get upset if they live or die. 

And, while the monsters are quite Lovecraftian, they're also mostly silent. And yes, so are Lovecraft's, but in his world, the monsters are so terrifying, the humans' reaction to them is enough to know how terrible they are. The humans literally go mad. Not in this book. So, once again, the stakes are lowered. Not cosmic at all. 

To me, this was less Lovecraft than it was Lite-craft. 

Honestly, the one interesting character was the herald, Sila. She had the most personality and the right amount of mystery about her.

But overall, it almost felt like there was too much going on for one slim novel. I'd have been happier with more fleshed out characters and one major storyline.

As I said, I really wanted to like this. But, while the writing was good, there was simply not enough to grab me. I won't be carrying on with the series.
The Green Mile by Stephen King

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dark emotional inspiring mysterious reflective sad tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

Almost thirty years on, I'm finally reading this as a single novel. The first time, I read it in the monthly installments that came out, and enjoyed the heck out of it.

But this time? This novel has struck me like no other King novel. King has scared me. King has tugged at my heart. King has shown me evil and good, wonder and despair. He's made me laugh and made my cry. He's created characters that I loved and characters that I've despised, and even characters that have been incredibly close to people I know in real life.

He has never written a book that's affected me the way this one does. Even reading it for the second time, knowing some of the twists at the end, King's writing, his story, his storytelling, his characters, his situations...they hit me.

When a book hits me like this, I literally feel my mind splitting into two different, but equally active modes:

The first is the Reader, who still continues to move through the story, immersed in the story, and enjoying every word as it carries me on the path that King has woven. This is the part of me that's deeply affected.

The second is the Writer, who steps back a bit and sneaks over to that curtain and lifts it to take an admiring look at the inner workings of the story, the mechanics that King built so carefully and put in place to make this entire machine work so well. This is the part of me that's impressed and also trying to learn from it.

King has always been good at creating his everyman characters. They aren't rich, they aren't overly exciting...they're just you and me, but thrown into extraordinary circumstances. He's also been pretty good at creating those meaner characters, the bullies and the brutes. He's also created a lot of very good exceptional characters, Carrie White, Danny Torrance, Charlie McGee, Johnny Smith, and he's done it again with John Coffey. So, it's not these that make this novel special. They're what make it a King novel.

I think it comes down to two things.

The first is the incredible set pieces that King builds into this novel. Coffey with the two girls in the field. The first death of Mr. Jingles. William Wharton's arrival. The very bad death of Eduard Delacroix. Coffey with Melinda. Coffey with Percy, and Percy with Wild Bill, and two more scenes toward the end of the novel that enter into spoiler territory. I don't know that King's created a novel and packed such powerful scenes into it since maybe THE SHINING or IT. His novels all have one or two, but nine or ten? No. So, that's one. King was on fire with this one.

The other is how much King was able to dig into life and death and the consequences of both. How he was able to talk about the influence and indifference of God. And how he was able to build such nobility and pathos into his flawed characters that it literally hurts to see them in pain.

I don't think King ever wrote another novel like this, one so deeply affecting. But I will say, to anyone who ever doubts the man can write, this will always be the one I'll point to to prove them wrong.
Red Rabbit by Alex Grecian

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adventurous dark emotional mysterious reflective sad tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

5.0

Well damn. I was NOT expecting this to be so good.

You know how, every once in a while, you read the back cover of the book and think, oh, I MUST read this! ...and then it turns out to be...well, so much less than you expected?

This book, for me, is the exact opposite of that. I read the back cover, thought, "meh" and put it back on the shelf. However, over the next couple of months, two co-workers both read it, and both sang its praises.

So, I figured, maybe I should check this out. 

I'm so glad I did.

Going through the other reviews, I've seen complaints over the large cast of characters, some of whom aren't introduced until quite a ways in. And, in one case, an additional complaint that, because of the large cast, no one gets a proper backstory. And I also saw a complaint that the story is male-dominated.

Interesting.

First off, I don't care if the story has a large or small cast, as long as all the characters have a place in the story. That's definitely the case here. As for backstories? Yeah, the ones that require it definitely get it. Grecian provides a masterclass in doling out just enough information to pique a reader's interest in the characters, without doing a monstrous info dump, saving important details for deeper into the story where they have the most impact. 

And, as for the male-dominated cast. Um...look at the time period this takes place in...there wasn't a lot of room for women in the male dominated world, however, there were some that absolutely stood out in history. And it's the same here: lots of guys, but the main "villain" is a woman, the most enigmatic lead of the troop is a woman, and then there's the titular Rabbit, who is...yup, a female character. I'd argue the strongest characters in the book were the female ones. So, I don't buy into any of these criticisms.

The story unfolds completely differently from what I expected, which was a minor disappointment until the author threw bomb after bomb of events and plot twists that I just didn't care and settled in for the ride, knowing it was going to be a good one.

Grecian offers a fun story, and lots of human drama, along with characters you can absolutely get behind and cheer for...even the villain.

I loved this book and I have a feeling it's going to be one of my favourites of the entire year. 
100 Bullets, Vol. 7: Samurai by Eduardo Risso, Brian Azzarello

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adventurous challenging dark emotional tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

This series simply doesn't slow down. Love everything about it. Typically, it's the writing and the art (obviously), but I have to make mention of the colour palettes used for the second of the two stories, "In Stinked" ...just gorgeous.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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challenging dark emotional sad tense slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

Somehow, in all my time on the planet, I've kind of missed out on Sylvia Plath. I had no knowledge of her or her writing, and I decided it was probably time to change that.

The first two things I noticed about this short novel was that the story itself seemed to very anecdotal. Small, almost unimportant events and observations simply strung together, with no real through-story. The other was that the writing itself is gorgeous.

So this sits—for me, at least—almost in the same region as, say, Kerouac's ON THE ROAD in that the only specific story is the main character's experience.

Yet, for all of that, as the story gets darker and darker, the book is impossible to put down. And knowing that this was the last full novel she wrote, I found myself wondering what brilliant offerings Plath could have produced, if she'd had more time.
Vinyl Cafe Turns the Page by Stuart McLean

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emotional funny hopeful inspiring lighthearted reflective relaxing medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

5.0

Occasionally, when I happen to find a hardcover copy of McLean's Vinyl Cafe books, I'll always grab them. I've been listening to, or reading his Vinyl Cafe stories for twenty years now and, while I always remember the funny ones, it's always the poignant ones that catch me off guard.

I love these stories. McLean talked about "the importance of being unimportant" and that's what these disarming stories all have in common. They're just the funny, strange, weird, or heart-tugging stories that you'll hear from your friends and co-workers, but McLean puts this lovely polish on them that makes them so comforting, you can't help but smile after each one.

I miss Stuart McLean.
Rose Madder by Stephen King

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dark emotional mysterious tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.0

This is the official first book of my Great Stephen King Re-read, Part Two. 

A few years back, I read about the first twenty years of his novels and short story collections, from CARRIE straight through to INSOMNIA, skipping only the Dark Tower stuff, as I'll tackle that as a separate read all on its own. This time around, the plan is to tackle the next fifteen years and go from this novel straight through to UNDER THE DOME. 

Having said that, I started into this novel with a lot of trepidation, because, while I remembered the basic storyline about it, it wasn't one of his novels that really stuck with me, or left a lasting impression, in that I remember it being one of his "middling" novels. 

And it seems to be one of his more forgotten ones...never really mentioned much, never made into a movie. It feels like it just came and went and got overshadowed by his next, brilliant release.

Reading it for the second time, I find that kind of a sad fact, as this book is far better than I remember it being.

And it's strange that this novel never stuck with me, as there's two somewhat personal connections. The first is, Rose is stated to have been born in 1962, so she's the same age is me. The second, far more disconcerting connection—and one I would have been keenly aware of when I read it the first time around—is that her husband Norman...? 

Yeah, he's more violent, and he's more a biter, but mentally? Every diseased little thought I read that went through Norman's mind? All the thoughts about homosexuals and non-whites, and Jews and everyone else that crossed his eye of judgement? But most especially, Norman's views on women?

Yeah, Norman could have been modeled straight off my own father. 

So, for those reasons, at least initially, this novel truly grabbed me and frightened me and sickened me. Forty years after his death, I felt like I was hanging out with my father for a few hundred pages.

But the book would need to have far more than that to keep me going. And this novel delivers. It's easily one of King's nastiest, most horrible, and horrifyingly real, villains, and I wonder if it was more than readers were used to from King and that's why this one never attained the status of some of his others. But King also delivers on the compelling story and character of Rose. Yes, she tends to get fantastic lucky break after lucky break, making the book a little too much fantasy, a touch too much to fully suspend disbelief.

But still, the story that King constructs in harrowing. The only false note, for me at least was the extended first trip into the painting. I know it's required for the end, but it did tend to drag on a little too long.

But overall, I have to say, reading this novel almost thirty years later?

It's so much better than I ever gave it credit for.
Thor: The Trials of Loki by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Sebastian Fiumara

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dark emotional mysterious reflective sad tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.0

Nothing spectacular. It's only okay, but it covers ground that's already been well-trodden.

And, in the end, it seems the point is to show that Loki will always be the outsider looking in, wanting love, but his own worst enemy at keeping it at arm's length.

Shocker. 
Moby-Dick: Or, the Whale by Herman Melville

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adventurous challenging dark emotional funny informative inspiring mysterious reflective tense slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No

4.0

So.

Wow.

This is just a fantastic novel. And it fails so badly.

As I made my way through this, I began to get the drift of the novel when it took 23 chapters for Ishmael and Queequeg to even get out to sea. Then it was four chapters of info dump. I don't even think there was a mention of a white whale until the 32 chapter? And then, more info dumps.

I tried to get a handle on this novel and this is the best I can come up with...imagine the voice of Rod Serling as he says,

Imagine, if you will, a timeless place, where the strange and impossible can happen.

A place where Frank Herbert, still heady with the excitement of having finished his novel
DUNE, looks to write a similar, yet opposite novel, a bigger, better version of both THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA and JAWS. He finds himself swapping sand for saltwater, sandworms for whales, Stilgar for Queequeg, and Baron Harkonnen for Captain Ahab.

When he finishes it, he hands it off to
HOUSE OF LEAVES author Mark Z. Danielewski to add some completely unnecessary interjections that have nothing to do with the plot, as he knows Mark is very good at this.

Mark, then wishing to add some verisimilitude to the burgeoning novel, then hands it off to a writer for the Enclyclopidia Brittanica to add facts on whales, the whaling industry, the significance of "white", facts about rope, more facts about whales, and any other minutiae that may have been mentioned in the dwindling story.

Finally, once that's completed and the novel is now about 40% story, 40% facts, and 20% author's opinions, then Cormac McCarthy is brought in (under strict instructions to leave the damn apostrophes and quotation marks alone) to wordsmith the hell out of the entire thing with the aim of making it prettier, but far more dense.

They'll all agree to slap the name "Herman Melville" on as the author, dust their hands off, and congratulate each other on a job well done.

No one will ever accuse Stephen King of writing too much ever again.

Reader, you've just entered the White Whale Zone.

Okay, so maybe that's a little bit of a crazy scenario, but it's as close as I can come.

At its heart, the main storyline is a good one, and it's actually very gorgeously written. There's a part of me that wants to read the basic, 200-ish page story of Ahab stalking his white whale, without all the side stories, opinion pieces, and informative asides. 

Still, the writing... Even the completely unnecessary side trips to get far too much information on some of the crew, eating whale steak, and the difference in crow's nests do come across as interesting, again because the writing is good.

But the points where Melville kills all wind and lets the sails hang limply, his plot dead in the water as he hammers the reader mercilessly with the cetology of various species of whale, etc...they were, while informative in the extreme, were as interesting for the most part as being offered a hearty mug of sea water to drink.

Overall, the combined effect of all of these various passages do serve to make the reader feel each day of the Pequod's long three-year journey, so the novel does sell the journey. 

And Ahab? I have to say he's as unlikable a character as I've ever met in fiction. 

Overall, while I'd never dive into this novel again, I must say, I'm glad I experienced it. I'm glad I got to revel in Melville's gorgeous prose, and I'm glad I met Ishmael and Queequeg and Starbuck and, yes, even Moby Dick himself. I am richer for having read this novel.

And for that reason, while it's deeply flawed, I have to give this book four solid stars.