Browse Tag by novels based on internet media franchises
reviews

Mid-Year Reading Recap

2016 has reached its midpoint and I thought I’d pop in and chat about what I’ve been reading lately. I was in a bit of a slow period for reading books in the spring, but summer’s almost here and I’m picking up speed; there’s hope for my reading challenges yet. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

boringgirlsBoring Girls by Sara Taylor

How To Build A Girl meets The Basic Eight in this debut novel about Rachel, an angry teen who forms a metal band with her best friend Fern, and uses their success to take revenge on misogyny in the music industry to violent ends. This book has all the components I love in a book – bloodthirsty teens, mysterious best friends, feminism, murder – but it fell a little flat for me; Rachel was underdeveloped and the characters’ emotions and motivations were not as nuanced as I would have liked. Spectacular cover, though.

In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and the Birth of Modernist Art by Sue Roemontmartre

I picked up this book as a part of my 2016 Nonfiction Challenge, and it was a lovely change to delve into the mid-century art scene in Paris. Art history becomes accessible in this enjoyable portrait of the birth of modern art in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. I really liked how the author framed the artists’ famous works and stylistic breakthroughs by providing context for the political and cultural developments that influenced the modernist art movement, like telephones, cinemas, and industrialization, while also crafting an emotional narrative centring around the artists in Paris’ famous bohemian neighbourhood. The analyses of the artists’ major works is accessible and ties together the social and emotional influences highlighted by the author. I read this book as prep for a trip to Paris, where I planned to visit friends, eat pastries and see as much art as I could. This book really enhanced my experience of all the modernist art I saw.

modernloversModern Lovers by Emma Straub

I’ve long loved Emma Straub – in fact, her first book was one of the first I ever reviewed for print – and you may remember that I first became aware of her as a merchandiser for The Magnetic Fields. Her new novel is a charming and witty portrait of old friends who are struggling with their marriages, their children, and the shadow of their famous and dead former bandmate. This was a quick and fun read with characters that feel human and smart writing. Straub really knows how to write relatable characters – her teenagers are particularly sharp – and I enjoyed the warmth and humour she uses to tackle old wounds, first love and the stress of long-buried secrets.

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Emma Straub and her Modern Lovers muumuu

I was lucky to see Emma Straub in Toronto just this past week, in conversation with Sue Carter Flynn at the Toronto Reference library. She wore one of her fantastic Modern Lovers-print muumuus and talked about her past as a poet, her family, and how many Magnetic Fields secrets are in this book (none, although she did tell me a few!). She was an utter delight and I wouldn’t mind being her best friend, if she’s taking applications.

Dad Magazine by Jaya Saxena and Matt Lubchansky

dadmagAs one of my favourite columns on The Toast (RIP), I looked forward to a new “issue” of Dad Magazine every month, and the heartwarming dad stories in the comments. The book is a full issue of Dad Magazine, reporting on hard-hitting issues like how every sport has been ruined these days, what’s going on in the neighbour’s yard, and how to talk to your son about growing a beard. My favourite part were all the hilarious dad ads (“(d)ads,” if you will) advertising things like complete sets of state quarters, the local paper shredder emporium, and yarn-spinner’s workshops for dad storytelling – make sure you read the fine print for extra puns. Maybe it’s because I’m not a dad, but the full issue felt like a it was a little too much. I’m hoping for one more column on the Toast as a send-off.

Now Reading: Not Working by Lisa Owennotworking

I’ve only just started it, but so far Not Working has been a fun Bridget-Jones-esque exploration of a young woman’s struggle to find a job as her life comes undone. The writing is funny and sharp, and Claire feels almost a little too familiar as she scrambles to find a place in the world. I’m looking forward to reading more.

That’s what I’ve been reading lately! What’s your favourite book you’ve read in 2016 so far?

reviews

Review: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Victory is mine!
Victory is mine!

A couple months ago, an advance copy of Welcome To Night Vale came across my desk. Or, more accurately, it came across a coworker’s desk and I literally snatched it out of his hands and claimed it for my own. I love the podcast – it got me through many tedious hours of coding – and saw the live show when it rolled through Toronto last year, so I’ve been looking forward to seeing how my favourite surrealist town translates to my favourite medium.

Set in the desert town made famous in the podcast of the same name, Welcome to Night Vale (Harper Perennial) by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor is a hilariously dark novel about family, strangers, lethal flamingo lawn ornaments, and the fallacy of memory.

While working at Night Vale’s pawn shop, nineteen-year-old Jackie Fierro receives a mysterious piece of paper that reads “WELCOME TO KING CITY” from a forgettable man in a tan jacket holding a deerskin suitcase. When the paper refuses to leave her hand, Jackie decides to investigate. On the other side of town, Night Vale PTA member Diane Crayton begins seeing her son’s estranged father wherever she goes, even as she works to keep them apart. Jackie and Diane must work together to figure out why these men keep crossing their paths, and find a way to get to King City, a town that seems to exist in a different dimension.

Fans of the podcast will enjoy learning more about their favourite townspeople and how they live in the bizarre cityscape that is Night Vale. I especially enjoyed visiting Carlos’ science lab (spoiler: everyone in Night Vale ships it), and the heist scenario of breaking into the librarian-infested library.

The cast of Welcome to Night Vale at Elgin Theatre, Toronto
The cast of Welcome to Night Vale at Elgin Theatre, Toronto

I had hoped that the novel would focus a bit more on Cecil than it did (he shows up in radio interludes scattered throughout the novel), but thought the novel worked well by following previously-unknown characters. The many new details about the town kept it just as strange and delightful as ever – the kitchen-standard hot milk drawer made me shudder, and the KING CITY paper joke was funny throughout the book. Although I enjoyed the novel, it started slowly, almost grindingly: in parts it felt like it was trying too hard to upkeep the surreal tone set by the podcast; the point that Jackie was nineteen and had been nineteen for decades felt unremarkable by Night Vale standards. However, by the time Diane and Jackie team up, the novel hits its stride and comes to a satisfying conclusion.

While Welcome to Night Vale is just as witty and even frustrating as the source material, I think that the world of Night Vale is better suited to an episodic format, rather than an extended novel. That won’t stop me from consuming another novel (if there is one), or any other media from this franchise – I’ve already got my tickets for the next Night Vale show this fall!

reviews

Review: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet

lizzie-bennet-diaries-book-coverIf you haven’t watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, do that before reading this review (I’ll wait). Produced by Hank Green and Bernie Su, the webseries is a compelling modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice told through videoblogs. As a broke, unemployed 24-year-old grad student, Lizzie is relatable, flawed, and funny, and the series focuses on more than just the relationship statuses of the Bennet sisters. I was – and continue to be – a huge fan of the show, participating in the fandom, writing a grad paper and contributing to the show’s wildly successful Kickstarter (my DVDs just arrived in the mail!) One of my favourite aspects of the series is its transmedia element: during the run of the show, active social media accounts for each character allowed the story to unfold over multiple platforms, and allowed direct interaction between the viewers and the characters; LBD’s transmedia storytelling even won the show an Emmy. The last transmedia frontier was a book, which publishes on June 24. A novel based on a webseries based on a novel? As much as I love the videos, I was hesitant at first – how much new material could the book really give? The answer: not as much as I was hoping, but I still enjoyed reimmersing myself back in Lizzie’s life, and I think other fans will too.

The novel is set up as Lizzie’s pen-and-paper diary, sectioned into days that follow the arc of the videos closely. At the end of some chapters, the corresponding videos are linked (in my ebook version, anyway) for those who want to track the diary against the original videos. I liked this touch, since it reinforced the transmedia roots of the series. However, sometimes I felt that these links didn’t allow the book to breathe on its own, since it allowed for no distance between adaptations at all. More than once I was surprised to see that there weren’t diary entries between some videos at all – surely Lizzie would have something to say about events significant enough to record in her videos?

My main complaint is, that for a novel that positions itself as Lizzie’s “means to express [her] most private feelings,” it doesn’t actually explore Lizzie’s inner emotions more than visible on video. Yes, deflection and avoidance are prime Lizzie Traits, but I felt like the book favoured rehashing canon events rather than exploring what Lizzie is actually feeling in any depth. For example, something that bothered me is that, while the majority of the novel is split into first-person diary entries, the chapters corresponding to episode 60 and episode 98 – the two Darcy “proposals” and huge moments in the original series – are verbatim transcripts of the videos. I understand that when you have these two very popular canon scenes, it is a lot of possibly redundant work to recap these events in a new way or perspective, but I didn’t appreciate the break from Lizzie’s internal monologue to have these transcripts slotted in, especially when the next diary entries are days after these events; I felt cheated of Lizzie’s internal struggle and immediate feelings.

Another irritation I had was that characters, especially Lizzie, didn’t feel developed any more than we’ve already seen them on video. I understand that a lot Lizzie’s characterization work has been done already and entirely new traits and hobbies would be obvious retcon, but to me, it felt kind of lazy. I actually found Lizzie to be flatter than in the videos; I suspect this is because I didn’t feel that the novel was told in Ashley Clements’ voice (which is funny, since Bernie Su and Kate Rorick were both writers on the series). Lizzie likes: books, school, and presumably watching Youtube, although this is mentioned so in passing in her diary that it’s laughable (“I’m a fan of the Vlogbrothers and other videos of this style, so it [videos] can’t be too hard to produce, right?”). Along these same lines, the novel would have been a great opportunity to expand on places and events outside of Lizzie’s bedroom that the viewer never gets to see because of the inherent limitations of the vlog. However, this is another opportunity wasted: it turns out what Lizzie does when not making videos or participating in awkward Darcy run-ins or sister drama is go to the library, a lot. The amount Lizzie visits the library approaches Hermione-like proportions: she seems to spend almost every waking non-video moment there over the summer. It feels like they needed to make her do something, and settled on this; whatever the reason is, it gets kind of boring. Similarly, there are few descriptions of unseen locations (a notable exception is Lizzie’s house-sitting gig in San Francisco, which seems too good be to true). An actual line: “Netherfield is gorgeous; I’m sure I don’t have to elaborate.” Actually, this would have been a great place to elaborate, since all the viewers saw of it was one purple bedroom!

The novel dispelled many of my personal headcanons, but that is to be expected, and there were some nice surprises: we learn where Lizzie got her idea to start vlogging and where her camera comes from, more about her home life and time spent jobshadowing, and exactly when her feelings for Darcy start. There are couple juicy nonvideo plotlines and information, such as new insights into Jane and Bing’s relationship, Darcy’s letter, and seeing Lizzie’s parents in more depth. Other details – such as Caroline’s job, what was happening with Bing’s med school, and why Lizzie didn’t watch Lydia’s videos – are also given, but felt more filling in obvious plotholes, but I appreciate that the authors addressed it, all the same. If you are looking for final authority as to what Jane’s indescretion was, prepare to be disappointed.

Despite my complaints, the book really is enjoyable. There are many running jokes and fandom references (Seahorse count: 1), and I sincerely hope that the line “My phone lit up like a Christmas tree” is a TFIOS allusion.

Agreed, tumblr user makeyourdeduction, agreed.

 

There is a lot more Darcy, since, without Lizzie being limited by the camera, we can live her accounts of the Most Awkward Dance Ever, every uncomfortable Netherfield moment, and the San Francisco tour first-hand – all entertaining, all primed to show how skewed Lizzie’s perspective is. I think my favourite part of this book was the fact that two new bonus LBD videos were produced to promote it; whatever that might say about the quality of the book itself, it was worth it for that new content alone. Overall, it was a delights to spend more time with Lizzie Bennet and I hope this isn’t the last we see of her.